Audio Guide - Adult
Carroll Cloar, American (active in Memphis), 1913 - 1993
Medium: Casein tempera on Masonite
Painting: 23 x 33 3/4 in. (58.4 x 85.7 cm)
Frame: 28 3/4 x 39 5/8 in. (73 x 100.6 cm)
Credit Line: Brooks Fine Arts Foundation purchase
Object Number: 65.17
Copyright: © Estate of Carroll Cloar
Born in Earle, Arkansas, Carroll Cloar attended the Memphis Academy of Arts (today the Memphis College of Art), and graduated from Southwestern University (today Rhodes College) in Memphis. Later he traveled to Europe, Asia, and Mexico, but he was always drawn back to the South. Like many southerners, he was a storyteller, poetically rendering memories, fantasies, feelings, and dreams into visual form. His works capture moments frozen in time that represent a nostalgia for rural southern life. In this painting, the artist brings visual form to a blues song. The title comes from W.C. Handy’s 1914 tune The Yellow Dog Blues, whose final line is “he’s gone where the Southern cross the Yellow Dog.” This crossing in Moorhead, Mississippi, known colloquially as the Yellow Dog, was where the Southern Railroad line and the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad line once intersected.
Prominently placed at the center of the painting are the horizontal and vertical lines of the railroad crossing. Walking along the tracks are an African American man and woman, whose flattened forms are static and fixed. The linear perspective created through the diminishing rail tracks, road, buildings, and power poles leads the viewer’s eye into the distance, bringing to mind the many miles of track and numerous towns ahead. These linear qualities are repeated in the diagonal blades of grass, which are juxtaposed with the rounded forms of the trees and woods. The artist painted with casein tempera, a medium characterized by dry, smooth surfaces, yet through his application of paint Cloar achieved a rich sense of texture. By repeating small dots of colors in the leaves of the trees, he created the vibrant foliage of an autumn day. The cool blue of the Mississippi sky is contrasted by the warm hues of gold and orange that highlight the rest of the painting. Through his use of color, he unifies the composition while simultaneously capturing the dryness and heat of a sun-baked southern day. The work refers to a specific time and place, but like many of Cloar’s artworks, the scene could be in any small American town.