Christenberry studied fine arts at the University of Alabama, under abstract expressionist Melville Price. His artistic career began with the painting of large abstract-expressionist canvasses, but gradually he began to be drawn to material that spoke about the place of his childhood.
Shortly after beginning a professorship at Corcoran College, Christenberry began making annual visits to Hale County during the summer to visit family and to explore and make photographs. Originally these all were made with a Kodak Brownie camera given to him as a child, but he later moved to a large format view camera in order to capture more detail. On one occasion in 1973, Walker Evans, who had encouraged Christenberry to take his photographs seriously, accompanied him.
One of the results of this pilgrimage was a series of photographs documenting the decay of individual structures, which are photographed as nearly isolated objects. In 1974, Christenberry began translating some of these photographed buildings into detailed sculptures that accurately reproduce their state of decay and patina.
Another series of works was provoked by an incident when, out of curiosity, he tried to attend a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan. Although he destroyed his first two Klan paintings, the subject occupied him for many years, resulting in a dense multi-media construction adjacent to his studio that came to be known as the "Klan Room," which was burgled in 1979. Christenberry largely reconstructed the room, which is filled with paintings, found objects, drawings, sculptures, dioramas, and a series of fabric dolls of Klansmen in their hooded robes.
Christenberry was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2011 and died in 2016. His work has been exhibited in solo and group shows around the world and is the subject of several monographs.
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