Thursday, June 13, 2013

Where The Southern Cross The Yellow Dog

"Where The Southern Cross The Yellow Dog"
by Carroll Cloar, 1965.
Casein tempera on Masonite.
Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.
Image copyright estate of Carroll Cloar.
It is the 'Summer of Cloar' in Memphis with a series of events surrounding the exhibition "The Crossroads of Memory: Carroll Cloar and the American South" at Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.  (For a previous post of The Devoted Classicist on the original architect of the museum, James Gamble Rogers, click here).  The show is a centennial retrospective covering about 45 years (he destroyed most of his earliest paintings) of the work of Memphis artist Carroll Cloar, 1913 to 1993, organized by the museum's Curator of European and Decorative Art, Dr. Stanton Thomas.

"The Artist In His Studio"
by Carroll Cloar, 1963.
Casein tempera on Masonite.
Collection of Dianne and Bobby Tucker.
Image copyright estate of Carroll Cloar.
Born on his family's cotton farm in Gibson Bayou, about three miles north of Earle, Arkansas, the sights and traditions of the rural South played an important role in his paintings.  The portrayal of people is predominant theme, along with the landscape.  But vernacular 19th century and early 20th century architecture is also a reoccurring subject, often presented in the background, but as a strong secondary theme.  White clapboard houses, weathered barns, or cubist-simple commercial buildings offer contrast with the bright color of the landscape.

"Sunday Afternoon In Sweet Home, Arkansas"
by Carroll Cloar, 1971.
Acrylic on Masonite.
Collection of Dianne and Bobby Tucker.
Image copyright estate of Carroll Cloar.
Although Cloar considered himself a Realist, some of his paintings fall into the stylistic categories of Regionalism, Pointillism, and Precisionism.  The events depicted in the paintings were often from memory although the settings still remain.  The painting of the Earle train station marked the artist's annual family trip to soak in the medicinal waters every morning and attend the movies every afternoon at Hot Springs, Arkansas, when he was a boy.

"Waiting For The Hot Springs Special"
by Carroll Cloar, 1964.
Casein tempera on Masonite.
Collection of Dianne and Bobby Tucker.
Image copyright estate of Carroll Cloar.
Although Cloar's paintings sometimes showed children of different races playing together, as was his own experience with his neighbor Charlie Mae which he documented in several notable works, paintings that featured adults were usually either all-white or all-black.  Perhaps it was a practice to avoid conflict with potential buyers, not wanting to bring up the issue of integration of adults;  the answer is not known.

"The Smiling Moon Café"
by Carroll Cloar, 1965.
Casein tempera on Masonite.
Collection of Dianne and Bobby Tucker.
Image copyright estate of Carroll Cloar.
The painting at the beginning of the post, "Where the Southern Cross the Yellow Dog" portrays a location in Moorhead, Mississippi, in the heart of Blues country.  The title comes from the W.C. Handy song, "The Yellow Dog Blues" which includes the line "He's gone where the Southern Cross the Yellow Dog", referring to the crossing of two railroad lines that made Moorhead an active passenger and freight connection for decades.  (To see Eartha Kitt sing it accompanied by Nat 'King' Cole on YouTube, try the link here).  The painting is representative of the impoverished locals of the Delta relocating to a place that, hopefully, offers a better life.
 
"Halloween"
by Carroll Cloar, 1960.
Casein tempera on Masonite.
Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.
Image copyright estate of Carroll Cloar.
In "Halloween" an adolescent girl frolics in a field wearing a grotesque mask while hooded figures, "Klu Kluxers", emerge in the distance.  Are the occupants of the house asleep?  Or is it abandoned?  A comment on the future of the South as seen in 1960?  It's up to interpretation.  This one is more ominous than most in the exhibition.  Other paintings are more hopeful.  This is just a handful of the ones that have architecture playing a part of the message, an interesting vehicle for subtext in the mid-century work of Carroll Cloar.
 
The exhibition, which includes almost seventy paintings, includes loans from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and the Hirshorn Museum and Gardens, in addition to the collection of the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art and private collections.  The exhibition continues at Brooks through September 15, and then travels on a national tour that includes the Arkansas Arts Center and the Georgia Museum of Art through 2014. 
 
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8 comments:

  1. Fabulous!

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  2. These paintings have a haunting detached quality. Love them.
    Mary

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    1. I appreciate your comment, Mary. Many of the paintings do indeed have a dream-like representation.

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  3. There is something rather Naive meets Seurat about his paintings, and they are very appealing, catching the hot, dusty almost haunting sense of foreboding about the area. The vibrant colours are very striking too.

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    1. C., they are much better in person, of course, when one can see each touch of paint. Thank you for commenting.

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  4. I have been looking for an excuse to visit Athens, Georgia...now I have it!

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    1. J., I have never been, but I've heard it is a pretty town. I think you'll enjoy seeing the paintings and be sure not to miss the details of the artist's youth, his isolation on the farm, and his friendship with Charlie Mae.

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