Memphians who think they're familiar with the work of artist Carroll Cloar may be surprised by the wide variety of works displayed throughout the region during "The Summer of Cloar," a multivenue celebration of the artist's centennial. Cloar is a complicated painter who dabbled in realism, surrealism, magical realism, pointillism, and expressionism, sometimes all at once. When asked to choose a representative piece in the Brooks Museum's comprehensive, five-gallery exhibit "The Crossroads of Memory: Carroll Cloar and The American South," curator Stanton Thomas gravitates to Gibson Bayou Anthology, a painting of ghosts standing by their graves, inspired by the narrative poem Spoon River Anthology, about the occupants of a cemetery who are given the opportunity to share their secrets and desires.
"Cloar loved literature, and this was his visual analogue to Spoon River Anthology," Thomas says. "Gibson Bayou's church is adjacent to where Cloar grew up. He picked dewberries so he knew all of these people in the painting."
Thomas points to various people in the painting. "This little girl is Odor Hayes — and yes, that's her real name. She gave Cloar smallpox. He survived, and she didn't. This man was killed in a gunfight, because he was arguing with another man over a girl. The woman is Ida M. Funkhouser, one of Cloar's mother's best friends. She was convinced she was unattractive but believed when she died and went to heaven she would become beautiful. She would become illuminated." The stories go on and get better.
The Brooks exhibit, showcasing works from its permanent collection alongside seldom-seen works on loan from private collections and other museums, opens June 8th. "The Summer of Cloar" is also being celebrated by the Art Museum at the University of Memphis, Christian Brothers University, David Lusk Gallery, and Delta Arts. There are a lot of moving parts ranging from Arkansas bike tours to performances of Spoon River Anthology and a new work based on the Gibson Bayou Anthology, performed in the cemetery that inspired the work. To follow on Twitter, use the hashtag #SummerofCloar.
The Crossroads of Memory: Carroll Cloar and the American South, at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, June 8th-September 15th.