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"The Crossroads of Memory: Carroll Cloar and the American South" opens at the Brooks Museum
Dr. Stanton Thomas, curator of The Crossroads of Memory: Carroll Cloar and the American South, discusses last-minute adjustments before opening.
MEMPHIS, TENN.- Southern Surrealist. Magic Realist. American master. Over a 50-year span, painter Carroll Cloar, who was born near Earle, Arkansas in 1913, and died in Memphis in 1993, created artworks that transcend time and space. His work depicts, as the artist himself put it, “American faces, timeless dress and timeless customs… the last of old America that isn’t long for this earth.” Drawing upon the richness of small town and country life, Cloar painted what he knew from personal experience or from family stories, old photographs, and scrapbooks—river baptisms, quilting bees, peach festivals, and bottomland panthers—creating unforgettable scenes that rank among the most haunting and beautiful evocations ever made of the American South. The Crossroads of Memory: Carroll Cloar and the American South, which marks the centenary of the artist’s birth, is being exhibited at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art June 8 through September 15, before embarking on a national tour that includes stops at the Arkansas Art Center and the Georgia Museum of Art through 2014.

“For all that he paints lyrical images of autumn trees, sleepy Delta towns, and children in flowery fields, there is always an undertone of mystery and sadness to Cloar’s work,” says exhibition organizer Stanton Thomas, Brooks Curator of European and Decorative Art. “In many ways his paintings are visual parallels to the Gothic tendencies in the works of Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor, and William Faulkner. And like those masterworks, Cloar’s most powerful paintings draw us into a world which, although beautiful, is often filled with primal fears, bitter injustice, familiar ghosts, family tensions, fitful dreams, the irretrievably lost past, and the desire for, and yet the struggle with, faith.” On the surface, Cloar pictured the quiet richness of a simpler world. At the same time, his images of abandoned buildings, wild panthers, or ghostly figures hint at the darker, more dangerous side of human existence.

The Crossroads of Memory: Carroll Cloar and the American South includes 85 works drawn from major public collections as well as rarely seen pictures still in private hands. The exhibition includes the Museum of Modern Art’s Autumn Conversion (1953), which shows a proverbial prodigal son overwhelmed by country gospel singers, and the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art’s Where the Southern Cross the Yellow Dog (1964), an autumnal, blues-inspired picture of railroad tracks and small town melancholy. The exhibition, which also includes loans from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Gardens, highlights Cloar’s complex style, which pays homage not only to the great American Regionalist masters and the pointillism of the Post Impressionists, but embodies the underlying, enigmatic loneliness of Magic Realism.

The Crossroads of Memory is one of multiple exhibitions that make up the "Summer of Cloar," a series of regional exhibitions celebrating the centennial of the artist's birth. (#summerofcloar for more info.) Related exhibitions include In His Studio: Carroll Cloar, on view at the University of Memphis Art Museum from June 8 through September 15; The Drawings of Cloar, on view at Christian Brothers University from June 1 through 30; and Carroll Cloar: Native Son, Crittenden County Collective, which is on view at Mid-South Community College in West Memphis, Arkansas, from June 6 through July 11.

Cloar studied at Southwestern at Memphis (now Rhodes College), Memphis College of Art, and the Art Students League of New York. In 1940 he won an Edward MacDowell Scholarship, and six years later was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. During his lifetime, he had solo exhibitions at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, the High Museum of Art, the Arkansas Art Center, the Alan Gallery (NYC), the State University of New York at Albany, the Forum Gallery (NYC), and the Tennessee State Museum, among other museums and galleries. He was featured in Life Magazine, Time, Horizon, and The Nation, where, in February 1956, noted MOMA educator A.L. Chanin noted Cloar’s unique ability to give “concrete expression to the ghosts of old memories.” Today, Cloar’s work resides in numerous museum collections, including the Brooklyn Museum of Fine Art, the High Museum of Art, Cheekwood Museum, the Library of Congress, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, and the Newark Museum. The Brooks has 14 paintings by Cloar in its permanent collection, including the iconic My Father Was Big as a Tree (1955).





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