Throwback Thursday: The Familiar Ghosts of Carroll Cloar

Painter Carroll Cloar (1913-1993) was raised in the Arkansas delta and studied art in Memphis, TN, after traveling Europe. During World War II he served in the Pacific Theater and painted nose art on several planes. After the war, he traveled through Mexico and Central America on artistic grants, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, but eventually moved back to Memphis, where he lived the rest of his life. Cloar collected copious amounts of photographs as reference points for his paintings which cover subjects as varied as religious meetings, family gatherings, landscapes altered or affected by human structures, and more haunting scenes that lean towards an idiosyncratic Southern Gothic style.

A huge Cloar retrospective organized by the Brooks Museum of Art in Memphis last year is currently on its last stop at the Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock. The Crossroads of Memory contains Cloar paintings and drawings from museum and private collections in one of the largest displays of his work in one exhibit. 

“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.