The Highwaymen : Florida's African-American Landscape Painters

The Highwaymen : Florida's African-American Landscape Painters


This text introduces a group of young black artists who painted their way out of the despair awaiting them in the citrus groves and packing houses of 1950s Florida. As their story recaptures the imagination of Floridians and their paintings fetch ever-escalating prices, the legacy of their freshly conceived landscapes exerts a new and powerful influence on the popular conception of the Sunshine State. Emerging in the late 1950s, the Highwaymen created idyllic, quickly realized images of the Florida dream and peddled some 100,000 of them from the trunks of their cars. Working with inexpensive materials, the Highwaymen produced an astonishing number of landscapes that depict a romanticized Florida - a faraway place of wind-swept palm trees, billowing cumulus clouds, wetlands, lakes, rivers, ocean, and setting sun. With paintings still wet, they loaded their cars and travelled the state's east coast, selling the images door-to-door and store-to-store, in restaurants, offices, courthouses and bank lobbies. Sometimes characterized as motel art, the work is a hybrid form of landscape painting, corrupting the classically influenced ideas of the Highwaymen's white mentor, A.E. ""Bean"" Backus. At first, the paintings sold like boom-time real estate. In succeeding decades, however, they were consigned to attics and garage sales. Rediscovered in the mid-1990s, today they are recognized as the work of American folk artists. Gary Monroe tells the story behind the Highwaymen, a loose association of 25 men and one woman from the Ft. Pierce area - a fascinating mixture of individual talent, collective enterprise and cultural heritage. He also offers a critical look at the paintings and the movement's development. Added to this are personal reminiscences by some of the artists, along with a gallery of 63 full-colour reproductions of their paintings.

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