A Journey Through Florida’s Forgotten Art Movement
Origins of the group
The Florida Highwaymen were a group of African American landscape artists who began their careers in the 1950s and 60s. They painted vivid, impressionistic scenes of the Florida landscape, often in bold colors and with a distinct style. The group consisted of 26 self-taught artists, who overcame racial and economic barriers to make a living from their art.
The significance of the art movement
Despite facing numerous challenges, the Florida Highwaymen managed to create a unique, regional art movement that has since been recognized for its historical and cultural significance. Their art serves as a testament to their resilience, talent, and determination in the face of adversity.
The Founding Members
Alfred Hair is considered the founding member of the Florida Highwaymen. He was inspired by Florida landscape artist A.E. “Beanie” Backus and began painting similar scenes. Hair eventually trained several other artists, leading to the formation of the group.
Harold Newton, another founding member, was also inspired by Backus. He met Hair in the early 1950s and began painting alongside him, developing a style that would define the Florida Highwaymen.
Other notable members
Some other key members of the group include James Gibson, Roy McLendon, and Sam Newton. Each artist brought their unique perspective and talent to the collective, contributing to the distinctive style that would come to be associated with the Florida Highwaymen.
The Unique Style of the Florida Highwaymen
The Florida Highwaymen developed a fast, impressionistic painting technique that allowed them to produce large quantities of art in a short amount of time. They often used inexpensive materials, such as Upson board and crown molding for frames, to keep costs low.
The artists primarily painted scenes of the Florida landscape, including sunsets, ocean views, and lush vegetation. These vibrant, evocative images captured the natural beauty of the state and appealed to both residents and tourists alike.
The influence of the Florida landscape
The diverse, picturesque landscape of Florida served as the main source of inspiration for the Florida Highwaymen. Their paintings reflect the state’s unique environment, from the tranquil beaches and serene marshes to the fiery orange sunsets and swaying palm trees.
During the time when the Florida Highwaymen were active, racial segregation was a harsh reality for African Americans in the United States. Despite facing discrimination and limited opportunities, the artists managed to build successful careers in a predominantly white art world.
The Florida Highwaymen faced numerous economic challenges as they tried to make a living from their art. The artists often had to find alternative means of selling their work, as traditional galleries were not always accessible to them.
The impact on the artists and their work
The challenges faced by the men shaped both their art and their approach to selling it. The adversity they encountered fueled their creativity and determination, leading them to develop innovative marketing strategies and a distinct style that set them apart from other artists of their time.
The Marketing Strategies of the Florida Highwaymen
One of the most notable aspects of the Florida Highwaymen’s story is their entrepreneurial spirit. The artists sold their paintings directly to potential buyers by going door-to-door, often targeting motels, businesses, and affluent neighborhoods. This allowed them to bypass the traditional gallery system and build a direct connection with their audience.
The unique, vibrant style of the Florida Highwaymen’s art quickly gained the attention of collectors. Their paintings were seen as a refreshing alternative to more traditional landscape art, and many collectors appreciated the opportunity to support African American artists during a time of racial segregation.
The role of art galleries
While the Florida Highwaymen initially faced barriers in accessing traditional art galleries, their growing reputation eventually led to gallery representation. Today, their work can be found in various galleries and museums across the United States.
The Legacy of the Florida Highwaymen
The resurgence of interest
In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in the work of the Florida Highwaymen. As a result, their paintings have become highly sought after by collectors, and their story has been shared in documentaries, books, and exhibitions.
The Highwaymen in museums and galleries
Museums and galleries have begun to recognize the historical and cultural significance of the Florida Highwaymen’s art, with several institutions featuring their work in exhibitions and permanent collections. This has helped to solidify their place in American art history.
Their influence on contemporary art
The Florida Highwaymen’s unique style and approach to art-making have had a lasting impact on contemporary art. Their resilience, creativity, and determination continue to inspire a new generation of artists who are breaking down barriers and pushing the boundaries of artistic expression.
The Florida Highwaymen represent a fascinating chapter in American art history. Their determination, resilience, and unique style have left a lasting impression on the art world and continue to inspire future generations of artists. Their paintings capture the beauty of the Florida landscape while also serving as a testament to their ability to overcome the challenges they faced.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Who were the Florida Highwaymen?
The Florida Highwaymen were a group of 26 African American landscape artists who began their careers in the 1950s and 60s. They were known for their distinctive, impressionistic style and their depictions of the Florida landscape.
- What challenges did the Florida Highwaymen face?
The Florida Highwaymen faced numerous challenges, including racial segregation and economic barriers. They often had to find alternative means of selling their work, such as selling door-to-door or targeting businesses and motels.
- What is the Florida Highwaymen’s painting style?
The Florida Highwaymen were known for their fast, impressionistic painting style, often using bold colors to depict the diverse landscapes of Florida, including sunsets, ocean views, and lush vegetation.
- What materials did the Florida Highwaymen use?
The artists often used inexpensive materials, such as Upson board for their canvases and crown molding for frames, to keep costs low.
- Where can I see the work of the Florida Highwaymen today?
The work of the Florida Highwaymen can be found in numerous museums and galleries throughout the United States, as well as in private collections.