“Redheaded Peckerwood, which unerringly walks the fine line between fiction and nonfiction, is a disturbingly beautiful narrative about unfathomable violence and its place on the land” – Luc Sante
“Complexity, evidence and mystery lies waiting for our journey to explore, to dive in.”
– Jimmy Kuenhle, ArtHOPPER
In Christian Patterson’s largest solo museum show to date, the artist takes as his subject the killing spree of 19-year-old Charles Starkweather. In January 1958, Starkweather murdered 11 people, including his 14-year-old girlfriend Caril Ann Fugate’s entire family. The two teenagers then drove across the Great Plains of Nebraska and were captured in Wyoming on January 29th, 1958. Over the course of five winters, Patterson retraced the teenagers’ path, revisiting places of significance to the story, combing through various archives, interviewing people whose lives were impacted by the murders and, incredibly, uncovering evidence that had gone unnoticed for fifty years.
A former assistant to William Eggleston, Christian Patterson first came to international attention in 2008 with the publication of Sound Affects, a series of photographs of Memphis that used color and form to represent the city’s musical qualities. Patterson’s interest in presence, or “something that you cannot see in a photograph, but you feel or know to be there” continues in Redheaded Peckerwood, as he contemplates what Charles and Caril Ann left in their wake.
In Transformer Station’s presentation, fact and fiction mingle. Historical artifacts, newspaper clippings, and other documents complement photographs of emotionally-charged landscapes and images reminiscent of crime scene photos, while hand-painted signs quote 50s-era slang to devastating effect. The combination allows Patterson to acknowledge photography’s long history of use in criminal proceedings and journalism even as he debunks the medium’s supposed veracity in minor and major ways, staging photographs that create what John Szarkowski famously called a “concrete kind of fiction.”
Rather than establish a linear narrative, the works included in Redheaded Peckerwood employ vivid imagery and telling details to conjure a time and place marked by disaster and allude to the story’s emotional undercurrent of teenage angst, young love, desire for escape and loss of innocence. With an abundance of evidence, real and symbolic, viewers must ultimately arrive at their own interpretation of events. The critically-acclaimed monograph Redheaded Peckerwood, now in its third printing, accompanied the exhibition.