Southern Architecture, Beverly Buchanan, and William Christenberry

Topher Lineberry, “Krispy Kreme, Winston-Salem, NC,” mixed media on paper, 12″ x 9″, 2018
Topher Lineberry, “Cook Out, Boone, NC,” mixed media on paper, 12″ x 9″, 2018

In graduate school I began to reckon more with the specters of homophobia in the Southern architectures. Above are but two examples. The Krispy Kreme in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (the first of the donut chain in the nation) has been rumored by local gay lore to have been a popular cruising site in the mid-to-latter 20th century. The Cook Out in Boone, NC next to Appalachian State University was the site of an argument in 2012 which lead to a gay-bashing at another location. I have become increasingly interested in architectures which demonstrate violence and/or resilience to what has historically been a hostile environment for queer folks. I continue to research these histories and have several structures/sites that I have yet to activate or respond to.

The study of Southern architecture has rich precedent in contemporary art. As I almost intuitively arrived at a similar aesthetic milieu, the work of Beverly Buchanan and William Christenberry have become important touchstones. While both artists have had their own distinct careers, their work was also exhibited together at Andrew Edlin Gallery in 2017. Both artists walk the line of participating in a “contemporary art discourse” while never betraying a sense of self rooted in the aesthetics and politics of place. From a detail below, it is also important that Buchanan links this to Southern traditions of folk art. As with myself, both artists spent time in New York but made it a personal and political point to “return” to the South. As I’m also from Greensboro, NC (Christenberry’s featured work here is about a different Greensboro in Alabama), Buchanan’s tenure as an artist inspires me as she was involved in civil rights activism in the 1960s and an alum of Bennett College. A performance by Buchanan reflecting on this experience with her sculpture is posted below. While Buchanan and Christenberry are most unified by their sculpture, their respective practices also diverge overall in relationship to media: Buchanan ranging from drawing, photography, performance, installation (her work can no longer be ignored when revisiting the 1970s “land art” movement) while Christenberry otherwise is mostly known for his photography.

When I first created the above drawings, it reminded me that in my own speech I purged a southern accent long ago, but that an aesthetic subterranean twang persisted. This first led me to resentment, as so many people – particularly queer people – do their best to leave the South behind after leaving, at least not let it continue to define them. I think something caught up with me, though. Throughout the rest of graduate school I worked on architectonic sculptures and forms, culminating in my graduate thesis work. While I certainly and explicitly chose to converse this emergent style with folk and outsider art (however tensely or critically), there was also a contradictory need to “plug it in” to a larger system of signification, to “unstick it” from the South as much as it also claimed its roots there.

Beverly Buchanan, Blue Sky Shack, Oil Pastel on Paper, 38 X 50 Inches, 1988
Beverly Buchanan, Blue Sky Shack, 1988 (detail) – Transcribed: “When I was living and making work in New York, the work was very different from what it is now physically to me as to others. As a Southern artist, I found that I was interested in the work of folk artists and began talking with them and discovered that some of my ideas about returning to a “simple” uncomplicated look in my own work, were shared with them. I think that artists in the South must confront, at some point, the work of folk artists, not necessarily in their own work but rather in the idea that the folk artist sees and experiences the same source – food, dirt, sky, reclaimed land, development, violence, guns, ghosts, etc… Nellie Mae Rowe’s home (a favorite folk artist of mine) was engulfed in a magic forest of her work. Every surface of her work had a mark from her hand. The simple chewing gum works convinced me that gum could never just be chewing gum again. My work attempts to celebrate the spirit of these shack dwellers who could be recognized by what they wore, how they walked, and by the kinds of flowers they grew in their front yards.”
Beverly Buchanan, “House of Scraps,” 18.5″ X 20.5″ X 17″, wood, copper, 2011
Beverly Buchanan, “Out of Control” Postcard, 1991. From the Brooklyn Museum’s Tumblr: “Taken in the backyard of her home in Athens, Georgia, a series of photographs document a private performance in which Beverly Buchanan burned some of her wood shack sculptures. Buchanan connected these performative burnings with the racial violence she encountered as a student protestor in Greensboro, North Carolina, in the early 1960s.
William Christenberry, “Coleman’s Cafe, Greensboro, Alabama,” archival pigment print, 1973
William Christenberry, “Coleman’s Cafe (I)”, mixed media, painted wood, and clay soil, 18 3/8″ x 25 3/4″ x 36 1/2″, 1982

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