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The Month Ahead

What to see, read and listen to in October

A Florida scholar pays homage to a group of artists whose works are masterpieces of time management

NOBODY EVER ACCUSED ALFRED HAIR of being a perfectionist. Hair, along with a man named Harold Newton, was at the core of the so-called Highwaymen, a group of black amateur artists who painted Florida landscapes in the 1960s and ’70s, selling them from roadside stalls for anywhere between $12 and $35.

“They never sold a painting on which the oil had dried,” says Gary Monroe, professor of photography at Daytona State College and author of three books on the topic (plus a pocket-sized set of reproductions, Postcards From the Highwaymen, due out Oct. 14). “These guys were driven. They’d paint these things at night and take them on the road the next day.”

The paintings were garish, lacking in detail and not particularly varied—palm trees were a recurrent motif—and they sold as fast as the artists knocked them out. Monroe figures that some 200,000 were created, all by no more than 25 young men (and one woman). “These guys were making tons of money,” he says, “driving Cadillacs, setting up bars wherever they went.”

Hair, says Monroe, “was charismatic, movie-star handsome,” and this led to his undoing. “He was out drinking one night and a guy became enraged over some teasing about his girlfriend. The guy pulls out a gun and shoots him dead.” This was 1970; Hair was not yet 30. The Highwaymen movement never really recovered, and by the end of the decade it had “fizzled.”

Today, though, there’s been a surge of interest in these paintings—a “frenzy,” Monroe calls it. A Harold Newton scene, he says, sold for $35,000 at auction a few years back. And it’s not just collectors who are taking notice: All of the 18 surviving Highwaymen are painting again. “One by one, they’re back to driving Cadillacs,” Monroe says. “Of course, they’re Escalades now.” —CHRIS WRIGHT

The Highwaymen in Brief
Author Gary Monroe on …

Numbers: “I’m responsible for the list of 26. I’ve had people threaten to sue me, beat me up. But the list is very accurate.”
Variety: “They depicted six or seven scenes under six or seven conditions of light.”
Expedience: “They’d work on up to 20 paintings at the same time. When the blue was mixed, they’d do all the skies.”
Style: “Because they painted so fast, they corrupted cherished concerns of landscape painting. It was spontaneous. It was jazz.”
Legacy: “In 2004, the Highwaymen were inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame, joining Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams and Jimmy Buffett.”

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