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

New Acquisition

Memphis on the Mississippi (Ode to Tom Lee)


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.

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“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

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Carl E. Moore
Painter

Carl E. Moore

Carl 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.

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Painter

Carl E. Moore

Carl 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.

View Artist's Website
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Resources

Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?

Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?

The American art theorist Linda Nochlin (1931-2017) posed this question as the title of a pioneering article in 1971. This essay was considered one of the first major works of Feminist art history, it has become a set text for those who study art internationally, and it is influential in many other fields.

Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? by Linda Nochlin