What He Said

Carroll Cloar, American, 1913-1993 The Garden of Love, ca. 1960 Acrylic on plywood Collection of Barbie and Ray Dan ©Estate of Carroll Cloar

Cloar was a man of many talents and strong opinions. Here we offer a few quotes about his paintings as well as his thoughts on life.


On Where the Southern Cross the Yellow Dog:

Once while riding a taxi in New York City, Cloar chanced to meet a man from Moorhead, Mississippi, the location of the railroad crossing referenced in the painting’s title. Cloar asked the man if he knew the painting. When the man said he not only knew it but owned one of the prints, Cloar declared, “Well, I painted that!”


On Garden of Love (pictured here):

Studded with sunflowers and brown-eyed girls in light summer dresses, this piece prompted Cloar to acknowledge, “As far back as I can remember I was always secretly in love with some little girl. She always had brown eyes.” A mosaic mural featuring the images in the painting once hung beside Cloar’s home on South Greer.


About a comic-strip character named Junius that he created in 1934:

“An unlikely hero, a fat boy character with glasses, erudite but strong as an ox. He was very plain, but he could do superhuman things and he had a fine vocabulary.”


About an oil-painting class he took in 1939:

“I did poorly. [The teacher] would look at my work, shake his head, sigh, and say, ‘Color, color, color.’ He had no hope for me.”


From a letter to a friend written in 1939 after taking a late-night walk in New York City:

“I think that there is no such thing as a protracted happiness, but the full life is made up of such moments as these, when everything is right . . . It’s the quality of the moment — not the number of days, of events, or of actors — that counts.”


From a letter to the same friend written in 1945 after serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II:  

“Now that it’s all over do you consider it a valuable experience? I am not sure whether I do or not. . . . but it may have had some value. For one thing it has decided me to make the very most of my time from now on. I also feel that three years have changed me a good deal — although this may be temporary. I believe in fewer things, have less illusions. At the moment I would classify myself as a good-natured cynic.”


On modern art:

Cloar admitted a “grudging admiration” for what he termed “the orgasmic school of painters” who begin with nothing but a “vast expanse of canvas and $25 worth of paint.” But he added: “I wonder if they ever know the ecstasy of ideas, the joy and pain and hard labor of nurturing and developing a thought and carrying it in the heart until it becomes visible and palpable to the world.”


From a letter to his wife, Pat Cloar, found shortly before he died:

“Dear Miss Patty, I have known for a long time that my days were numbered. Now that the agony has exceeded the ecstasy. I think that it is time for me to go. Thanks for all you have done for me. I love you. Carroll”


These quotations are excerpted from an article, “The Art and Life of Carroll Cloar,” which Memphis ran in November 1993.
A slightly revised version of the story appeared in our June 2011 issue.


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