This summer, throughout his native Midsouth, Carroll Cloar’s 100th birth year is being honored with a series of exhibitions. Cloar is nationally recognized for the narrative quality of his paintings that depict the 20th-century rural South, and in Memphis, we’re lucky to have a number of his works on exhibit to enjoy.


A replica of the artist’s studio, which incorporates the actual walls and ceilings from Cloar’s work space, has been transferred to the Art Museum of the University of Memphis. Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, David Lusk Gallery in Memphis, Christian Brothers University and Mid-South Community College are all featuring this artist’s body of work from unique angles. 

Marked Tree Street Scene acrylic on masonite, 28x40 1992. David Lusk Gallery, Memphis.

Marked Tree Street Scene, acrylic on masonite, 28×40, 1992 (David Lusk Gallery, Memphis).

Exhibitions commemorating the work and career of Carroll Cloar:

“Crossing Place, The Carroll Cloar Drawing Collection,” Beverly and Sam Ross Gallery, Christian Brothers University, through July 26.

“Carroll Cloar: Southern Raconteur,” David Lusk Gallery, June 7 through July 27. Paintings, drawings, lithographs.

“The Crossroads of Memory: Carroll Cloar and the American South,” Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, June 8 through September 15.

“In His Studio: Carroll Cloar,” Art Museum of the University of Memphis, June 8 through September 7. Also on view will be “Early and Rare: Selections from the Carroll and Pat Cloar Collection,” at Special Collections, University of Memphis Libraries, June 6 through September 15.

“Carroll Cloar, Native Son, Crittenden County Collective,” Mid-South Community College, through June 14 through July 19.


Consultation, casein tempera, 26x19 1961 (David Lusk Gallery, Memphis).

Consultation, casein tempera, 26×19, 1961 (David Lusk Gallery, Memphis).

About the Artist:

Cloar (1913-1993) earned national acclaim as a surrealist and realist painter. His work is owned by numerous prestigious museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Hirshhorn Museum. His work and life have been featured in major publications, including The New York Times, Life magazine, Time magazine, and Art News.

Cloar’s narrative impulses afforded him the ability to create images that are eerie yet assuring, successfully capturing defining moments of life. He developed the ability to make remembered images appear fresh and understood the importance of precise detail necessary to shape his stories. Combined with an undertone of humor and a powerful nostalgia, his works hold mysterious magic.

Study for Night Landscape graphite on paper, 22x29, 1956 (David Lusk Gallery, Memphis).

Study for Night Landscape, graphite on paper, 22×29, 1956 (David Lusk Gallery, Memphis).

Born on a cotton farm just outside of Earle, Arkansas, he attended high school in Earle where he won an award from the Lee Art Academy (now the Memphis College of Art). In 1930, Cloar moved to Memphis to pursue his college education at Southwestern at Memphis (now Rhodes College).

His interests inspired a move to New York where he became intrigued with lithography and recapturing images from his rural Southern boyhood. The Second World War briefly interrupted his work, but he continued his art practice by painting figures on bomber airplanes. Cloar received his first national attention in 1948 when Life magazine gave him a feature article titled “Backwoods Boyhood.” This was Cloar’s first major acknowledgment and had much influence on his decision to stick with Southern themes in his work. By 1952 Cloar had a feature in Life magazine and respected art dealer Edith Halpert promoting his work.

Study for Howe’s Cash Grocery graphite on paper, 21.75x31 1964 (David Lusk Gallery, Memphis).

Study for Howe’s Cash Grocery, graphite on paper, 21.75×31, 1964 (David Lusk Gallery, Memphis).

A year later, Cloar returned to Memphis to be closer to his childhood home. Initially planning only a three-month visit, Cloar stayed a year and had his first solo show in Memphis. He did return to New York, changed galleries, and was featured in a prominent two-man show before heading to Europe where his artistic vision came into focus. Realizing that it was time for him to move home, Cloar again returned to Memphis permanently in 1955.

Study for R.F.D. #1 graphite on vellum, 23x31 1956 (David Lusk Gallery, Memphis).

Study for R.F.D. #1, graphite on vellum, 23×31, (David Lusk Gallery, Memphis).

Despite Cloar’s references to the South, his work retains a universal quality that can be appreciated by anyone. As Cloar himself stated: “Each painting is a sort of story. There is fantasy and folk tale in them. I try to recreate the vision I see in my mind.”

Zoo Scene casein tempera on masonite, 20x26 1953 (David Lusk Gallery, Memphis),

Zoo Scene, casein tempera on masonite, 20×26, 1953 (David Lusk Gallery, Memphis).

Carroll Cloar died in 1993 at his home in Memphis, Tennessee. Nearly a decade after his death his work continues to resonate deeply with audiences with soulful energy. He felt a strong connection to his roots in the South and created some of his best work while living here in Memphis.


Find out more from the individual venues for a Summer of Cloar:

Art Museum of the University of Memphis:

Christian Brothers

David Lusk, Memphis:

Memphis Brooks Museum of Art:

Mid-South Community College: