A new exhibit makes a case for using old techniques to explain a digital world

William Christenberry: Beginnings
5-8 P.m. Friday opening reception
On display through June 26
Artspace at [Untitled]
1 N.E. Third

Digital and multimedia art has blossomed in the modern art world as creative minds utilize technologic innovations to explore ever-broadening horizons.

Jon Burris, Artspace at [Untitled] executive director, finds the progression of art in the digital realm exciting, but is actively working against critics and those pronouncing the death of more traditional media in an increasingly computerized world.

To that end, Burris said that [Untitled] will split its time between the digital works and more traditional forms, such as the gallery's latest show, which examines the progression of American artist William Christenberry.

Opening Friday, the exhibit examines Christenberry's roots as an abstract expressionist painter and his later development into a mixed-media artist whose primary focus is documenting his upbringing in the downtrodden south of Hale County, Alabama.

"You will see references to everything from Coca-Cola signs to the Ku Klux Klan," Burris said. "These symbols of the KKK show up because while growing up, these were all things that were part of his environment."

The works were pulled from a private collection. Christenberry's maturation as an artist was largely due to the influence of prominent Great Depression documentary photographer Walker Evans, much of whose work depicted life and struggle in Christenberry's Alabama. The two became friends after Christenberry moved to New York in 1961 and his work soon evolved to incorporate more photography. Burris said that Christenberry continues to be relevant because of the documentary aspect of his work.

"A lot of subject matter in painting is criticized because the artist only cares about satisfying himself. You don't have a lot of artists today dealing with these types of themes," Burris said. "So, when talking about validity in painting, this is an artist one can point to as very valid. He isn't just indulging himself with his art; he is showing where he came from."

The vitality of painting as an artform is under a lot of scrutiny these days, Burris said, when compared to digitally created art.

 "Right now, there is a critical feeling that painting is dead, that it just doesn't have the vibrancy and the validity, since there is all this new media to be used and new materials, that painting alone is kind of archaic," he said. "It's strange to believe that, but there are American critics out there, especially The New York Times, who have been hitting it hard recently."

Burris doesn't think that there is a legitimate battle between the two, since the tangibility of Christenberry's works have elements that aren't effectively replicated by a computer. Later this year, Artspace will bring in a number of paintings to further bolster the artform.

"You can Photoshop anything and turn it into something interesting, but I see that as kind of the easy way out," Burris said. "Christenberry's paintings are absolutely abstract, but as you look at them, you begin to see the different ways the shadows fall on the painting. You see bits and pieces of signage, but in an abstract way.

"You can't do that with a photograph. You can't get someone to walk around a photograph so they can see it from different angles and find new things in it.""?Charles Martin

above "Dream Building XII" by William Christenberry

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