Memphis Brooks Museum of Art / 1934 Poplar Ave. September 1, 2022 - March 31, 2028

Carl E. Moore

In 2022, the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art commissioned the Memphis-based artist Carl E. Moore to create a work inspired by the museum’s soon-to-be new location on the banks of the Mississippi River. Memphis on the Mississippi (Ode to Tom Lee) presents a view of the river and the city of Memphis from the Arkansas bank looking east. Aside from an iPhone tucked inside a pocket, Moore’s painting omits visual signs of the present day, instead focusing on the river’s eternal quality and looking to its history, present, and future.

Historically, Memphis was founded and grew from its connection to the river, and later the connecting railways, as a site of trade in goods and enslaved peoples. The Trail of Tears—the forced westward migration of 60,000 indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands during the 1830s—passed through Memphis as the river crossing point. At the center of the painting is a gilded boat; a reference to the battered wooden vessel captained by Tom Lee, a Black river worker, who on May 8, 1925 saved the lives of thirty-two people when the steamer the M.E.Norman overturned. Lee became a national hero, and today the public park by the river is named in his honor.

Moore recognizes this history, but also focuses on what the site means today for Black Americans. Memphis is known for its civil rights activism, but it is equally important, if not activist in itself, to depict Memphis at leisure. The composition is inspired by one of the most renowned paintings of riverside recreation, the French painter Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte (1884). The scale of Moore’s work, which is far larger than Seurat’s painting, positions Memphis and the Mississippi River as an iconic location. It is a site that has witnessed the tumult of Memphis’s past, reminds us to find joy in the present, and encourages us, in this moment of the city’s rapid development, to consider the future we want to create.

Carle E. Moore was born in Canton, Mississippi, and lives and works in

Memphis. He received his BA (1987) and MFA (2012), from Memphis College of Art. Moore is best known for his vivid paintings that interrogate color, both in terms of the pigments used by artists but also in relation to race, stereotypes, and identity. His work has been exhibited and published nationally.

“During the 40 years I’ve lived in Memphis, I’ve had the chance to see how the city of Memphis and the African American community live and connect with the river. Tom Lee Park has been one of those ever-changing gathering places” – Carl E. Moore

All exhibitions at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art are underwritten by the MBMA Exhibition Fund.

Major annual support is provided by Mary Lee Copp Formanek and Maggie and Milton Lovell, with generous annual funding from Anonymous, Gloria and Kenneth Boyland, Deborah and Bob Craddock, Michael and Maria Douglass, Harry Goldsmith, Eleanor and William Halliday, Debi and Galen Havner, Buzzy Hussey and Hal Brunt, Jay and Kristen Keegan, Dr. James Patterson, Dr. Rushton Patterson, Carl and Valerie Person, and Bill Townsend.

Image: Carl E. Moore, 'Memphis on the Mississippi (Ode to Tom Lee)', 2022. Acrylic on canvas.