For most of his youth, Joe Louis Light worked on a farm until he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1951. Discharged after suffering a self-inflicted wound, Light engaged in illicit activities and was incarcerated in the Nashville Penitentiary on two separate occasions. His conversion to Judaism during his second prison term changed the path of his life. After his release, he traveled throughout the South, finally settling in Memphis, Tennessee. Light supported himself by selling housewares in flea markets, and eventually married Rosie Lee.
Possessed with the fervor of a convert, he began making driftwood sculptures, signs, and lively, semi-abstract paintings that expressed his political views on current events and racial issues. Large signs erected in Light’s front yard attempt to educate passers by on moral behavior and Old Testament beliefs. Materials for his assemblages include old television sets, hubcaps, driftwood from along the Mississippi River, and other found objects. Looking back on his life, Light said, “I’m awake now, but I wish I had been awake before I went through all this.”