Style & Arts: Studio Style & Arts

November 11, 2007

Southern Trees: Rooted in His Memory

Washington artist William Christenberry, 70, a persistent man, has revisited Hale County, Ala., at least once a year for more than half a century. His exhibition "Site/Possession" is on view in Charlottesville at the University of Virginia Art Museum, and will come to Washington, to the American University Museum in the Katzen Art Center, on Feb. 5. All its objects -- its photographs and sculptures and abstract-expressionist drawings, which are expressionist but not entirely abstract -- evoke that hardscrabble, kudzu-covered, rural Southern place.

What is This?
I remember as a child seeing these ghostly trees, with martin houses, and gourds up. This tree I painted in 2006 with Kremer shellac ink and two hand-made deer-hair bushes taped together, you know, as an impediment, to get away from what your hand can do, sometimes too well. All of my "Southern Trees" drawings have Hale County in them, its landscapes and lynchings and years. The trees are old. So are my memories. So are these brushes. They're losing hairs. I've used them for 20 years. I started at the top. First I drew the skeleton of the trunk. Then I pulled each line out of it, as if another branch were growing. I kept drawing until I was underground where the roots are, in the soil.

ART: William Christenberry / Hemphill Fine Arts; WEB EDITOR: Julia Beizer - washingtonpost.com

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