Galleries: William Christenberry’s Southern roots show in ‘Assembled Memory’


“Alabama Wall” (1975), by William Christenberry, features a series of found metal signs that evoke Warhol’s pop art. (Courtesy William Christenberry and Hemphill Fine Arts)
October 4, 2012

William Christenberry has lived in Washington for more than 40 years, but he still regularly sifts the soil of his childhood home, rural Alabama. The South nurtures, inspires and probably terrifies him, as it has other noted artists and writers from the region. Christenberry’s current show at Hemphill Fine Arts, “Assembled Memory,” mixes it all together, much as it combines photography, painting and sculpture.

The retrospective opens with “Alabama Wall,” assembled in 1975 from 32 found metal signs, rusted and weathered in various lovely ways. Every sign peddles Tops Snuff, and the repetition suggests a down-home Warhol. So does a silk-screen of the same signs, arranged differently and finished with hand-painted details.

Christenberry’s photos of rusted, misaligned or long-unpainted facades have been shown often, but they still look great. They’re alluring simply for their colors and compositions, but are also suggestive of a place where something’s just a little off. The artist makes that explicit with work based on the iconography of the Ku Klux Klan, whose hoods he sometimes melds with the simple shapes of the white frame houses he constructs. This show includes two Klan pieces, one an eerie, red-tinted 1983 hologram.

Less familiar are Christenberry’s ink paintings, mostly made since 2004. An untitled piece from 1959 mixes acrylic and ink with a fluidity that presages the later work. More recently, the artist has been experimenting with backdrops as well as media and forms: One painting was done on sandpaper, and two employ white ink atop a blue acrylic-pigment field. Stark yet delicate, the latter also summon images from memory, as is made explicit by the presence of a high-contrast 1962 photograph whose basic format resembles that of the paintings. All three show Southern trees, seemingly fragile yet deeply rooted.

Patrick McDonough

Richmond musician Mark Linkous made five albums under the nom de guitar Sparklehorse, a career that ended with his 2010 suicide. Local artist Patrick McDonough pays tribute to Sparklehorse with “All I Want Is to Be a Happy Man,” a heartfelt if somewhat arcane show at G Fine Art. The exhibition, named for a Linkous lyric, opened last month on what would have been the alt-rocker’s 50th birthday, and one of McDonough’s gambits is a bit of birthday-related numerology. That explains why the gallery’s front door is currently pink.

Huh? Well, McDonough has decided to pair Linkous’s spirit with that of Royal Cannon Chex, a horse born the day the musician died. The six digits of that shared date, when applied to HTML’s color system, yield pale blue. So he painted two blocks of that color on linen, along with a block of pink, which is the HTML hue of Linkous’s birth date — and the one on the door. An empty space waits for the color determined by Royal Cannon Chex’s death day. (Maybe the horse will outlive HTML, which would make this formulation even more hermetic.)

McDonough has planned carefully for the horse’s death, building an urn for his ashes that comes with a requirement: The buyer must attempt to purchase Royal Cannon Chex’s remains and cannot use the vessel for anything else. Also included is a photograph of McDonough as a horse, wearing an equine mask, as well as various sacred relics of the musician’s life. Characteristic of the show is a 62-minute video of the drive from Linkous’s suicide site to Royal Cannon Chex’s birthplace, assembled from approximately 40,000 clicks on Google Maps; the obsessiveness of its construction is more moving than the result.

Visual art’s love of music is often unrequited, and that seems largely the case here. Aptly, the show’s most striking piece is part relic, part sound: an archaic record player, outfitted with some of Linkous’s guitar-effects pedals and an etched plexiglass disc that, when in motion, emits a mournful sound. That’s a lot more evocative than a pink door.

‘All About Etching’

Neptune Fine Art’s current show, “All About Etching,” is as rich in beauty as its predecessor, “On Paper: Picasso & Matisse Models & Muses” — but a little more affordable. This selection of 43 works on paper is designed as an introduction to the form — a one-sheet glossary is available — and to art collecting in general. There are prints by artists who are better known as painters, including Richard Diebenkorn, Red Grooms and Robert Mosk­owitz, as well as attractive pieces by less-established artists.

The selection includes two bold color abstractions by Andrew Spence, but most of the work is representational. Among these are three neoclassical etchings, including the hand-colored “Huddled Pears,” by Stone Roberts; David Fertig’s intricate, old-fashioned etchings on nautical themes; and a set of fanciful thumb prints by Philadelphia conceptual artists (and art-rockers) Steven and Billy Dufala.

Some of the tones are astonishingly rich, even in pieces that are black-and-white; Sean Mellyn’s playful neosurrealist images feature gorgeous charcoal-like grays. Celia Reisman’s three views of everyday London, all etchings and aquatints, depict the city with different degrees of realism. The standout is “London Gate,” which has gray and tan architectural shapes in front of an attention-getting yellow wall. The tiny vista contains a world of color and texture.

Jiha Moon

Korean-born artist Jiha Moon works with hanji, a traditional paper made from mulberry bark. That may sound rustic, but Moon’s “Souvenir Valise” leaves traditional East Asian aesthetics behind. Or rather, it brings them along on a journey that also visits Disneyland, Starbucks and Pennsylvania Dutch country. Emblems of all those places, and more, are included in Moon’s show at the Curator’s Office.

A former D.C. resident who lives in Atlanta, Moon travels to Seoul to buy hanji. But her three-dimensional, wall-mounted collages, three of them collaborations with Rachel Hayes, reflect polyglot American culture. Moon piles up imagery in the manner of 1960s pop art, but she also incorporates aspects of such non-pop objects as American Indian dream catchers. While she often includes birds, a universal art motif, many of the creatures in her work have the simplified, friendly faces produced by animation factories both East and West.

Moon’s assemblages are busy and unwieldy, with streamers hanging down and small plastic toys sitting atop. Yet they’re linked by the artist’s affinity for rounded things, whether the Starbucks logo, a hungry Pacman character, yellow happy faces, the ying-yang symbol, traditional Asian fans or the distelfink — the twinned goldfinch that represents good fortune in German-Pennsylvanian culture. In “Souvenir Valise,” the circle may be overloaded, but it remains unbroken.

Jenkins is a freelance writer.

Assembled Memory

on view through Oct. 27 at Hemphill Fine Arts, 1515 14th St. NW. 202-234-5601. www.hemphillfinearts.com.

All I Want Is to Bea Happy Man
on view through Oct. 20 at G Fine Art, 1350 Florida Ave. NE. 202-462-1601. www.gfineartdc.com.
All About Etching

on view through Oct. 20 at Neptune Fine Art, 1662 33rd St. NW. 202-338-0353. www.neptunefineart.com.

Souvenir Valise
on view through Oct. 20 at the Curator’s Office, 1515 14th St. NW, Suite 201. 202-387-1008. www.curatorsoffice.com.

by Mark Jenkins

William Christenberry has lived in Washington for more than 40 years, but he still regularly sifts the soil of his childhood home, rural Alabama. The South nurtures, inspires and probably terrifies him, as it has other noted artists and writers from the region. Christenberry’s current show at Hemphill Fine Arts, “Assembled Memory,” mixes it all together, much as it combines photography, painting and sculpture.

The retrospective opens with “Alabama Wall,” assembled in 1975 from 32 found metal signs, rusted and weathered in various lovely ways. Every sign peddles Tops Snuff, and the repetition suggests a down-home Warhol. So does a silk-screen of the same signs, arranged differently and finished with hand-painted details.

Christenberry’s photos of rusted, misaligned or long-unpainted facades have been shown often, but they still look great. They’re alluring simply for their colors and compositions, but are also suggestive of a place where something’s just a little off. The artist makes that explicit with work based on the iconography of the Ku Klux Klan, whose hoods he sometimes melds with the simple shapes of the white frame houses he constructs. This show includes two Klan pieces, one an eerie, red-tinted 1983 hologram.

Less familiar are Christenberry’s ink paintings, mostly made since 2004. An untitled piece from 1959 mixes acrylic and ink with a fluidity that presages the later work. More recently, the artist has been experimenting with backdrops as well as media and forms: One painting was done on sandpaper, and two employ white ink atop a blue acrylic-pigment field. Stark yet delicate, the latter also summon images from memory, as is made explicit by the presence of a high-contrast 1962 photograph whose basic format resembles that of the paintings. All three show Southern trees, seemingly fragile yet deeply rooted.

Patrick McDonough

Richmond musician Mark Linkous made five albums under the nom de guitar Sparklehorse, a career that ended with his 2010 suicide. Local artist Patrick McDonough pays tribute to Sparklehorse with “All I Want Is to Be a Happy Man,” a heartfelt if somewhat arcane show at G Fine Art. The exhibition, named for a Linkous lyric, opened last month on what would have been the alt-rocker’s 50th birthday, and one of McDonough’s gambits is a bit of birthday-related numerology. That explains why the gallery’s front door is currently pink.

Huh? Well, McDonough has decided to pair Linkous’s spirit with that of Royal Cannon Chex, a horse born the day the musician died. The six digits of that shared date, when applied to HTML’s color system, yield pale blue. So he painted two blocks of that color on linen, along with a block of pink, which is the HTML hue of Linkous’s birth date — and the one on the door. An empty space waits for the color determined by Royal Cannon Chex’s death day. (Maybe the horse will outlive HTML, which would make this formulation even more hermetic.)

McDonough has planned carefully for the horse’s death, building an urn for his ashes that comes with a requirement: The buyer must attempt to purchase Royal Cannon Chex’s remains and cannot use the vessel for anything else. Also included is a photograph of McDonough as a horse, wearing an equine mask, as well as various sacred relics of the musician’s life. Characteristic of the show is a 62-minute video of the drive from Linkous’s suicide site to Royal Cannon Chex’s birthplace, assembled from approximately 40,000 clicks on Google Maps; the obsessiveness of its construction is more moving than the result.

Visual art’s love of music is often unrequited, and that seems largely the case here. Aptly, the show’s most striking piece is part relic, part sound: an archaic record player, outfitted with some of Linkous’s guitar-effects pedals and an etched plexiglass disc that, when in motion, emits a mournful sound. That’s a lot more evocative than a pink door.

‘All About Etching’

Neptune Fine Art’s current show, “All About Etching,” is as rich in beauty as its predecessor, “On Paper: Picasso & Matisse Models & Muses” — but a little more affordable. This selection of 43 works on paper is designed as an introduction to the form — a one-sheet glossary is available — and to art collecting in general. There are prints by artists who are better known as painters, including Richard Diebenkorn, Red Grooms and Robert Moskowitz, as well as attractive pieces by less-established artists.

The selection includes two bold color abstractions by Andrew Spence, but most the work is representational. Among these are three neoclassical etchings, including the hand-colored “Huddled Pears,” by Stone Roberts; David Fertig’s intricate, old-fashioned etchings on nautical themes; and a set of fanciful thumb prints by Philadelphia conceptual artists (and art-rockers) Steven and Billy Dufala.

Some of the tones are astonishingly rich, even in pieces that are black-and-white; Sean Mellyn’s playful neosurrealist images feature gorgeous charcoallike grays. Celia Reisman’s three views of everyday London, all etchings and aquatints, depict the city with different degrees of realism. The standout is “London Gate,” which has gray and tan architectural shapes in front of an attention-getting yellow wall. The tiny vista contains a world of color and texture.

Jiha Moon

Korean-born artist Jiha Moon works with hanji, a traditional paper made from mulberry bark. That may sound rustic, but Moon’s “Souvenir Valise” leaves traditional East Asian aesthetics behind. Or rather, it brings them along on a journey that also visits Disneyland, Starbucks and Pennsylvania Dutch country. Emblems of all those places, and more, are included in Moon’s show at the Curator’s Office.

A former D.C. resident who lives in Atlanta, Moon travels to Seoul to buy hanji. But her three-dimensional, wall-mounted collages, three of them collaborations with Rachel Hayes, reflect polyglot American culture. Moon piles up imagery in manner of 1960s pop art, but also incorporates aspects of such non-pop objects as American Indian dream catchers. While she often includes birds, a universal art motif, many of the creatures in her work have the simplified, friendly faces produced by animation factories both East and West.

Moon’s assemblages are busy and unwieldy, with streamers hanging down and small plastic toys sitting atop. Yet they’re linked by the artist’s affinity for rounded things, whether the Starbucks logo, a hungry Pacman character, yellow happy faces, the ying-yang symbol, traditional Asian fans or the distelfink — the twinned goldfinch that represents good fortune in German-Pennsylvanian culture. In “Souvenir Valise,” the circle may be overloaded, but it remains unbroken.

Jenkins is a freelance writer.

Assembled Memory

on view through Oct. 27 at Hemphill Fine Arts, 1515 14th St. NW. 202-234-5601. www.hemphillfinearts.com.

All I Want Is to Bea Happy Man
on view through Oct.20 at G Fine Art, 1350 Florida Ave. NE. 202-462-1601. www.gfineartdc.com.
All About Etching

on view through Oct. 20 at Neptune Fine Art, 1662 33rd St. NW. 202-338-0353. www.neptunefineart.com.

Souvenir Valise
on view through Oct.20 at the Curator’s Office, 1515 14th St. NW, Suite 201. 202-387-1008. www.curatorsoffice.com.

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