In 1994, art aficionado Jim Fitch assigned the name "Highwaymen" to a loose association of young, mostly untrained black artists (including one woman) from the Fort Pierce area who created thousands of Florida landscapes and marketed them from the backs of their cars for about $25 in the 1960's and `70's. Theirs was an unabashedly commercial venture, and the artists collaborated to create and sell works as quickly and cheaply as possible. Dismissed as "motel art" at the time, these intense, lush and at times otherworldly depictions of an idealized Florida have become a subject of renewed interest and critical attention in recent years. Consequently, many myths and vague tales have grown up around the group.
As part of his research, author Gary Monroe interviewed many of the remaining artists to bring the story to life, presented here in a 26-page annotated essay. In analyzing the art, he insists that the speed with which they worked was far from a detriment: "By unintentionally bastardizing the canonical pictorial strategies...they created a new form of fantasy landscape painting." The artists found their strength as colorists, and the emotional hues capture the essence of Florida (or at least, as we imagine it.)
As a northerner who visited Florida twice as a child in the pre-Disney days, I must confess that the 63 glorious full-color reproductions here gave me goose bumps of fond memory, real or imagined.
A followup: This book launched an explosion of interest in The Highwaymen. Surviving members no longer need hawk their wares, since collectors now come to them and new works sell for as much as $18,000. The were inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame in 2004.