Pat Oliphant and
William Christenberry

Old Friends

Exhibition Dates: June 25 - July 26, 2010 Reception for the Artists:
Friday, June 25, 2010, 5:00 - 7:00 p.m. 

"If only good people populated the political scene, I would have nothing to do.  Good people make poor targets.  I like villains."  -- Pat Oliphant

" . . . I think that oftentimes art can make an outsider look back on something he has never been part of, and make him feel like he has always been part of it."  -- William Christenberry

Andrew Smith Gallery opens the summer season with a powerful exhibit of multimedia work by world-renowned artists Pat Oliphant and William Christenberry.  Old friends, Oliphant and Christenberry met in Washington, DC in the 1970s when Christenberry asked Oliphant to talk about cartooning and drawing to students at the Corcoran Gallery School of Art and Design where Christenberry was teaching.  To celebrate this special reunion Pat Oliphant and William Christenberry will be on hand at Andrew Smith Gallery to meet the public on Friday, June 25, 2010 from 5 to 7 p.m.   The exhibit continues through July 26, 2010. 

Pat Oliphant
Pat Oliphant is the most widely syndicated political cartoonist in the world, the man whom the New York Times called "the most influential cartoonist now working."   His trademark is a small penguin named Punk who appears near the margin of his cartoons and whose smart comments add to their bite.

Born in Adelaide, Australia in 1935, Oliphant got his start as a cartoonist there before migrating to the United States in 1964 to become editorial cartoonist for the Denver Post.   In 1975 he joined the Washington Star newspaper until it folded six years later.

Oliphant has been an independent syndicated cartoonist since 1981. For over fifty years his wickedly funny, daring cartoons have satirized corrupt and incompetent politicians and leaders.  He won the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning in 1967 and was awarded the National Cartoonist Society Editorial Cartoon Award seven times, the Reuben Award twice, and the Thomas Nast Prize.  

Besides being a consummate draftsman, Oliphant is also a master sculptor and printmaker who has had one-person museum exhibitions throughout the US and in five Eastern European countries.  His drawings and sculptures are in the permanent collections of many museums including the Presidential Libraries, the Library of Congress, and the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, among others. 

The wide selection of Oliphant's work at Andrew Smith Gallery includes nearly 20 political cartoons, approximately 8 studies of models, 2 aquatints and 5 bronze sculptures. Oliphant's work is being shown courtesy of Susan Conway Gallery, Washington, DC and Santa Fe, NM.   Patrick Oliphant and his wife Susan currently live in Santa Fe.

Political Cartoons

From Barak Obama to the ongoing BP oil spill, whatever issue is wreaking havoc in Washington, the nation, or the planet Oliphant is quick on the draw to expose the corruption, hypocrisy and sheer lunacy of the world we live in.  Here is a sample of cartoons on exhibit:

"Three Candidates [Barak Obama, Hillary Clinton, John McCain]"
Date: © 2008 Pat Oliphant
23.75" x 17.75" Color Etching
Edition Number 15/30
Printed at Landfall Press, Santa Fe

Looking like an enlarged holy card, this dazzlingly bright orange and yellow etching depicts the 3 "saints" of the 2008 Presidential race.    The caricatures of Barak Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain, wearing beaming smiles and glowing halos, are drawn with biting black lines.  Obama is the "Patron Saint of All Who Dislike Saint Hillary."  Saint Hillary is "Patron of Overweening Ambition, Lawyers and Pant Suits."   McCain is "Saint John, Patron of Confused Economics."   Obama, towering over Clinton and McCain is clearly the Chosen One.


"Chinese Wall"
Date: © 2009/2010 Pat Oliphant
12" x 9" Watercolor

Uncle Sam, hat in his hand, stands with Barak Obama gazing up at the towering Great Wall of China.  Compared to the wall they look very puny as they contemplate the fact that China now owns close to 900 billion dollars of US Treasury Securities.

Date: © 2009 Pat Oliphant
13.25" x 9.25" Watercolor

Above the teeming masses of humanity a towering bust of Barak Obama has risen mysteriously from the ground like an Easter Island idol.  People kneel at its base in worship, others flee in terror, and some discuss the sudden wonder objectively, while a few just go about their business. 


"Our Troubles are Over"
Date: ©2008 Pat Oliphant
8" x 12" Dry Ink Rendering
Edition 1/20

Tackling the problem of unscrupulous credit card companies Oliphant drew a homeless couple living out of their car and planting vegetables in the woods.  Both are naked -- she is washing their only clothes in an outdoor tub.  The man who has just opened a letter is ecstatic.  "Honey, Look!  Our troubles are over -- This nice credit card company has sent us a FREE CARD!"

Bronze Sculptures

Oliphant's bronze sculptures combine the political jabs of his cartoons with the physicality of bronze. Their earth-brown surfaces are as pocked marked as rough tree bark, suggesting Oliphant rapidly molds the wax casts into shape with quick, energetic thrusts, wedging into them a mixture of wit, insight and ire.  Bristling with energy the bronze sculptures are as powerful as masterpieces by Giacometti or Rodin.

20" x 8" x 10" Bronze

President Obama is characterized as an archaic, totemic bust radiating unshakable confidence.  His narrow head and chiseled full lips recall the long faced statue of Easter Island or the Egyptian god-king, Akhenaten, who was married to Queen Nefertiti.  Oliphant gouged out deep hollow eye sockets in the head, giving the portrait of Obama a vaguely sightless quality.

"Clinton and Cigar"
10" x 15" x 25" Bronze

Former President Bill Clinton may be remembered for an unprecedented economic boom, or for his efforts to mediate peace in the Middle East, or for his extraordinary political skills.  But Oliphant's portrait deals with a matter of equal significance.  Clinton leans his head against his beefy fingers, which hold a long cigar.  His face appears to be pondering grave matters, but in fact it is a hollow mask within whose cavity (and only seen from back) stands the real subject of his thoughts; the nude figure of a young woman.

"Cheney, Horse, Bush"
26" x 13" x 18" Bronze

A grim, rifle toting Vice-President Dick Cheney bent on his own agenda leads a powerful draft horse by the bridle.  Clinging to the horse's back is the small figure of George Bush wearing a jester's cap and looking like a dwarfed and slightly imbecilic puppet.

Lyndon B. Johnson as a Centaur
18" x 5" x 14" Bronze

Lyndon B. Johnson is portrayed as a centaur wearing a cowboy hat.  The half-horse, half man stands confidently with his hands on his hips and his tail raised in a convincing horse-like gesture open to interpretation.  Like the mythological centaur who aims for the stars but has his hooves in the clay, the swaggering, cowboy from Texas began his presidency instituting progressive programs, only to have his successes eroded away by his disastrous entanglement in Vietnam.

"Nude Man With Klan Hat"
Size Bronze sculpture

Relatively small in scale this compact bronze sculpture has little humor but considerable impact.  It depicts a powerfully built nude man with a bulging belly whose head is encased in a pointed hood; a chilling representation of a brutal, sadistic, and anonymous member of the Ku Klux Klan and an homage to William Christenberry's work on the same subject.

Figure Studies

"Big Ass Cleaning Lady"
10" x 7.75" Soft ground Aquatint Etching


Unlike the biting lines and intellectual content of his cartoons, Oliphant explores a different style of image making in his etchings, creating in this case a study in soft, velvety tones. Against a black background are three studies of a bulky cleaning woman whose gestures suggest mopping, vacuuming or dusting.  At the top right her head appears in profile.   Oliphant suggested her rounded girth by scratching through the soft aquatint ground on the plate, in effect, drawing in "light." 


"Black Nude Reclining"
Date: © 2010 Pat Oliphant
12" x 18" Charcoal on paper
Date: 1997

In velvety black charcoal Oliphant sketched a nude woman lounging with one leg hooked over the other.  The perspective is close-up and slightly below the body so that the buttocks, thigh and knees appear mountainous compared to her small head and arm in the distance. The visual distortion of the body resulting from a sharply receding perspective recalls Bill Brandt's photographs of abstracted nudes. 

William Christenberry

Born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in 1936, William Christenberry is a hugely prolific artist whose photographs, paintings and sculptures are in major museum collections and galleries throughout the United States and Europe. His color photographs are some of the seminal images in 20th century art photography.  Both in tones and balance they have influenced a generation of contemporary color photographers.  However, Christenberry's art is much broader than photography. His subject matter is inspired by the land, people and history of Alabama, and deals with such large themes as the depopulation of the rural landscape, the deteriorating effects of time upon the material world, and the secret world of the Ku Klux Klan.  Fueled by an intense feeling of place, Christenberry's art draws on countless experiences and memories of Hale County, Alabama where he grew up.   Like the photographs by his friends Walker Evans and Lee Friedlander who at different times accompanied him on photographic trips to Alabama, Christenberry's work is a heartfelt response to vernacular structures and traditions that are fast passing away:  houses, churches, barns, cars, signs, and graveyards.  He has written, " I was always attracted to the warped shapes of rustic, smaller buildings and houses -- the way they had been molded, altered by time.   There's just something beautiful about the form.  Also, I was deeply taken by the surfaces, textures, colors of the buildings, and the roofs -- the way that corrugated tin rusts and ages."  

William Christenberry has lived in Washington, DC since 1968, working as an artist and as a professor of drawing and painting at the Corcoran College of Art and Design.  Andrew Smith Gallery is exhibiting Christenberry's classic photographs as well as original silk screens, sculpture and drawings.


In the early 1960s Christenberry began making regular trips to rural Alabama in an effort to deal with the place where he had grown up but left as a young man, using a Kodak Brownie camera to photograph sites and objects that felt meaningful to him before they disappeared forever.  Returning year after year to document the same subjects he shifted to using more sophisticated cameras, though his later pictures retained the flavor of those early snapshots he had developed in a local drugstore forty years earlier. 

"House, Near Akron, Alabama" 
A suite of 20 8" x 10" Archival Pigment Print photographs 
Negative Dates: 1978 to 2005
Print Date:
Edition of 9

For 27 years, between 1978 and 2005, Christenberry chronicled the saga of a house near Akron, Alabama, eventually developing the photos into a fascinating sequence of 20 archival pigment prints.   Photograph #1, taken on a winter day in 1978, shows a dented blue sedan, tires rimmed with red dirt, parked in front of a weathered white clapboard house.  Above its wide porch rises a red tin roof flanked by two soot stained brick chimneys.  A second car on the property and pieces of chopped firewood on the ground imply the house is lived in.  The front door is cracked open, as if the occupants inside are aware that Christenberry is photographing the house.

Photograph #2, also taken in 1978, shows several people on the porch watching the photographer shoot the house from some distance away.  Masses of green foliage near the yard soften the scene.  A few pieces of white fabric flutter from a clothesline on the porch.

Print #3 made the winter of 1981 reveals an old washing machine has been moved onto the porch.  The same blue car, now missing a tire, still sits in the yard, its roof and fender now painted green.

In summer 1985 several children watch the photographer from the porch as he works from the other side of the paved road.  The porch roof has lost some tiles but otherwise the house looks the same.

In photograph #7 taken the summer of 1988 the car is still there but part of the porch roof has fallen to pieces.  The house appears to have been abandoned.

Nearly ten years later in 1997 the house is beginning to decompose. The porch roof is virtually gone; pieces of red tin have fallen off exposing the boards underneath. The land around the house is plowed. 

Photograph #12 from 1999 is a close-up detail of two gaping windows with rotting boards giving way.  The remaining photographs in the series document the house disappearing from view under bushes and grasses.  In the final picture taken in 2005 it has caved in on itself.  Rafters protrude from all that remains of the tin roof and a fragment of chimney.

"Church, Sprott, Alabama, 1971"
Printed: 2000

On the outskirts of Sprott, Alabama Christenberry photographed a country church known to him since his youth.    Oddly small in scale, it had been carefully designed with four windows and two symmetrical towers topped by quaint pitched roofs. Christenberry photographed it from a slightly high vantage point making it appear even more diminutive; a gleaming white object against a background of dark pine trees and blue sky.  He has written, "I feel that that lonely little white church with the two towers is a perfect, a superb example, of vernacular church architecture.  There was never one like it before and there never will be one like it again."   Also exhibited are Christenberry's photographs of the same church taken in 1973 and 1977.

"Coleman's Cafe, 1978"
Printed 2003

Illuminated by long winter sunlight was a derelict cafe by the roadside. Below its porch the wood was still rust-red, but above the porch it had been stripped of color.   Christenberry's composition hinges on the satisfying shape of the square red building surrounded by leafless trees and gray-blue sky.

"Church Between Greensboro and Marian, Alabama, 1973"
Printed 1993

Christenberry responded to the stark geometry of a white church centered in front of deep green foliage and blue sky.  Painted entirely white the front of the church is unusually aloof and formal, with no windows and its two closed doors covered by awnings and a steep pitched roof. 

"Building with False Brick Siding, Warsaw, Alabama, 1974"
Printed 2004

Resembling a dollhouse, an enigmatic square building covered in false brick siding and topped with a triangular roof is a relic from a bygone time.  Vines snake up one of its three posts while grasses grow over the front steps.

"The Soul Wheel, Greensboro, Alabama, 1977"
Printed: 2000
"The Shack, Greensboro, Alabama, 1980"
Printed: 2001

Christenberry had already photographed this building in 1967 back when it was an abandoned country store.  Ten years later it had been refitted as a juke joint and painted red halfway up the front.  To advertise it a local 10-year-old girl had painted two wagon wheels and the words "Soul Wheel."  In 1977 he photographed the same square building flanked by dark green trees, its screen door ajar as if someone had just been there.  Some years later The Soul Wheel had become The Shack, though when Christenberry photographed it again in 1980 the Shack was defunct.  Faded advertising of a star-eyed man in an Afro hairstyle singing into a microphone was still visible below an irregular white metal awning.

"Corn Sign With Storm Cloud, Near Akron, Alabama, 1977"
Printed: 2005

Christenberry and his father were coming back from a fishing trip when they saw an 8-foot corncob sign on the side of the road.  Despite an approaching storm Christenberry stopped to take a photograph.  Sometime later he acquired the sign itself and took it back to Washington, D.C. for his folk art collection.  The photograph appeared on the cover of a book of his photographs published by Aperture in 1983. 

"Church Across Early Cotton, Pickinsville, Alabama, 1964"
Printed: 2002

Sandwiched between a horizontal strip of red farm land and blue-green trees in the distance sits a white church with a steeple and five columns, dominating the landscape like a Greek temple.


In this group of stunning enlargements made from older negatives we are able to see details not entirely visible in Christenberry's snapshots.

"Green Warehouse, Newbern, Alabama, 2002"
Printed: 2002
Edition 25
20" x 24" Fuji Crystal Archive Print

Christenberry photographed the Green Warehouse because it was "just beautiful, just perfect."  He did not notice at the time it was green, rather he was drawn to its elegant structure and material congruity.  Its roof, sides, front, and back were made of corrugated metal set off by three wooden doors.  The owner of the structure used a color supplied by The John Deere Company, a company that makes farm machinery and uses special forest green paint.  Christenberry has photographed the building from various angles over the years.

"Roadside Stand, Near Moundville, Alabama, 2004
Printed 2004
Edition 1/25
20" x 24" C-Print

Rows of bell shaped gourds hang from a wire fence on a roadside stand, leafy vines growing alongside them.  Christenberry writes that people in the country enjoy making bird nests for Purple Martins out of dried gourds with holes cut in them.  The Purple Martin eats around 2000 mosquitoes a day so the gourds have their practical side.   Christenberry has made numerous drawings and photographs of gourd trees throughout his career.

"Gourd Tree, Near Akron, Alabama (close view), 1981"
Printed 1997
Edition 25
20" x 25" C-Print

In the foreground hollowed out gourds with holes in their sides hang from a makeshift wooden post with cross beams.  In the distance are a wintry field and a cloudy gray sky.  American Indians in the southeast created the first "gourd trees," a tradition that continues today with people using clotheslines, abandoned TV antennas and constructions of wood to hang the gourd from. 

"Red Building in Forest, Hale County, Alabama, 1991"
Printed 2005
Edition 5/25
20" x 24" C-Print

To photograph the Red Building deep in the Talladega National Forest Christenberry had to drive twelve miles into the woods, a somewhat risky venture.  The building appealed to him for its solitary aspect, but mostly because someone had taken the trouble to cover it with artificial brick siding, an asphalt shingle material that comes in a roll.  They even covered the door with it.  This enlargement of a 1991 photograph emphasizes the isolated feeling of the odd little building amid massive pine trees and empty sky.

"Palmist Window (Close View), Havana Junction, Alabama, 1981
Printed 2003
Edition 4/25
20" x 24" C-Print

The Palmist Building was familiar to Christenberry from childhood since it lay between both his grandparent's homes.  Back then it was a general store, but in the 1950s it was rented to gypsies who advertised their fortune telling business by installing a hand painted sign in the window.  After much effort and negotiations, described by Christenberry in several accounts, he was able to acquire the palmist sign complete with bullet holes and cobwebs for his folk art collection in Washington.  Over the years Christenberry returned to photograph the building and sign until it finally collapsed, after which he photographed the site where it had been.  In the enlargement of the 1981 snapshot dappled sunlight plays over the vine covered wood slats of two windows displaying paintings of large hands, one white, the other red. 

"House and Car, Near Akron, Alabama, 1978
Printed 2007
Edition 25
20" x 24" Fuji Crystal Archive

The enlargement of a snapshot from 1978 affords a crisp view of a two-toned car parked in front of a red roofed house.  White balls of cotton hang from plants in the field.  The posts supporting the roof are simple two-by-fours.  Numerous nails studding the tin roof create a pattern as pleasing as the scalloped shingles on the eaves.  Through the open front door inside the shadowy interior is a couch covered by a white sheet.

"Church, Sprott, Alabama, 1981
Printed 1999
Edition 25
20" x 24" Chromogenic Print

This enlarged close-up of the quaint Sprott church reveals many interesting details; curtains in the windows, sagging wood on the side of the church, a propane tank partly concealed by foliage, and a sandy driveway. 

"5 ¢ Wall with Johnson Grass, Demopolis, Alabama, 1980"
Printed 1997
20" x 24" C-Print

On the wall of an old brick warehouse numerous advertisements had been painted over each other throughout the years. Christenberry photographed a weathered advertisement for 5-cent Coca Cola whose original colors had faded into unusual hues.  The bold sign is not only a delightful abstract composition, but recalls the paintings of Charles Demuth and Jasper Johns who understood the visual power of  words and numbers.

"Horses and Black Buildings, Newbern, Alabama, 1978"
Printed 1993
Edition 25
20" x 24" C-Print

Christenberry had long been intrigued by a group of black buildings that were once used to store cotton in a community built long before the Civil War.  As their owner explained to the artist, the buildings were black simply because there was a lot of black paint lying around. This horizontal picture shows a green pasture near the black buildings where three horses have come to a standstill, apparently fascinated by the sight of the photographer hard at work.


In the early 1960s Christenberry began to explore a dangerous aspect of southern culture based on his memory of entering a Ku Klux Klan building and encountering one of its members, an experience that forever troubled him.  In trying to work out his emotional and geographical relationship to the Klan he created The Klan Room installation in a separate room he kept locked in his studio. According to Howard N. Fox in his essay An Elegiac Vision:

 "For the few to whom Christenberry did reveal this secret place, the experience was eerie, disturbing, and spellbinding.  It was pure theater.  The door opened into a claustrophobic space flooded with blood red light and as crowded as an Egyptian tomb, stacked floor-to-ceiling with hundreds of Klan-robed dolls and effigies of all that the Klan represented: torchlight parades, strange rituals, lynchings.  A white neon cross high up on the wall presided impassively over the silent mayhem of the room."

The following sculptures are on exhibit:

"Untitled", 1996
satin, string, wax, steel
6.5" x 6.5" x 19"

Sealed in a real steel trap used to catch rats or gophers stands a mummy-like figure encased entirely in white satin.  Below the pointed hood the figure has no features, arms or legs.  A black, white and red crusader's cross is painted on its chest, the same color as a red rope around the waist, simultaneously recalling Klan costumes worn by zealous, sadistic crusaders, as well as those hooded, tortured victims at Abu Ghraib prison.  The sculpture encapsulates of all that is darkest and most horrifying in the human psyche.

"Untitled," 1997
wax, leather, satin, wood, peas
20" x 8" x 8"

Almost 20" high and standing on a circular base is a garroted figure imprisoned in a white bag, its head encased in a stiff black hood.  Leather thongs around the neck and waist secure it tightly to a dead tree branch, a chilling allusion to one method of Klan murder.

"White Form," 2006
15.125" x 8.25" x 7.75"

In the early 1970s Christenberry began making what he calls dreamlike "re-creations" of architectural structures in rural Alabama.  According to Howard N. Fox, "His primary practical activity as an artist is to collect and preserve: whether he is collecting images, artifacts, history, or memory, all the substantive content of his art is rescued from real oblivion in the real world." "White Form" resembles the elemental structure of a church or temple with its three steps leading to a platform where numerous columns support a pitched roof with a steeple in the center.  The solid white sculpture articulated with geometric precision suggests what Fox calls" a state of Near-Platonic timelessness."  And yet an element of uneasiness is here, too, suggested by the cage like construction and dagger shaped steeple with its needle-sharp point

Liz Kay


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