Project Description

February 4, 2021 | By Bob Devin Jones

Further Down the Road

Living Color: The Art of the Highway Men

Through March 28
Tampa Museum of Art
Details here

Roy McLendon, Untitled [Backcountry pine with fallen tree in foreground] n.d. Oil on Upson board 23 x 35 in. Courtesy of the Schlesinger Collection © Roy McLendon. 

. . .
They (the Florida Highwaymen)
Al Black, Harold Newton, Willie Daniels, Alfred Hair, Livingston Roberts, and James Gibson, among others and one woman, Mary Ann Carol

They began this painting effort in the ‘50s in and around the Fort Pierce area
They painted the Florida they saw
and the Florida landscapes they imagined…

which were the ones they saw, lived amongst and dreamed beyond
. . .

Willie Daniels, Untitled [Sabal palm shoreline] n.d. Oil on Upson board 24 x 36 in. Courtesy of the Lightle Collection © Willie B. Daniels. 

. . .
that is what many young people do, they see beyond their “ignorant present”
some make literature, Zora Hurston, some others paint, Al Hair,

these artist give us more to hear and to see
“Let your mind wander,” Al Hair exhorted his colleagues
Al was the seminal painter, one of the few who had apprenticed under A. E. Backus
Al Hair was the centrifugal creative force that the young African American painters made their orbits around and their own trajectories… from

Livingston Roberts, Untitled [Moonlight river scene] n.d. Oil on Upson board 22 ¾ x 35 ½ in. Courtesy of the Jacobs Collection © Gertrude Roberts Walker. 

.. . .
these painters came to be referred to as the Florida Highwaymen 

they sold their paintings door to door
to residents and inhabitants of the state
from insurance companies to savings and loan offices
to folk (tourist people) headed further South and other folk going North
North, to places like Vermont, Maine and New York

to places where the landscapes did not resemble the verdant, fecund ramble of South Florida
. . .

Harold Newton, Untitled [Orange hibiscus portrait] n.d. Oil on Upson board 44 x 28 in. Courtesy of the Lightle Collection © Harold Newton. 

. . .
they sold their paintings, some 50 thousand plus
“running the road”
from the back of their cars
wearing out shoe leather
along the byways and the highways of
the Jim Crow South… “Living Colored”

These canvases were speedily deployed (painted)
painted with a swiftness and a witness to what… would/could/did sell

sometimes the paint was not yet dried, sweat still on the canvas
decades later, now highly coveted and collected
. . .

Harold Newton
, Untitled [Backcountry hammocks at sunset] 
n.d.
 Oil on Masonite board
 22 ½ X 31 in.
 Courtesy of the Asselstine Collection
 © Harold Newton. 

. . .
the momentum of one day’s painting effort would spill over to the morning of the previous day…
the evidence of things not seen

The Florida Highwaymen gave us more to see
These pictures are emotional, insistent, and utterly captivating

The sky some several thousand feet above the earth
encircles butterscotch hued sun-sets and sun-rises
the cumulus nimbus clouds like bruised buttered popcorn
hovered (hushed) above the landscapes
a menace for sure, but not a Black one
. . .

Harold Newton, Untitled [Man relaxing on beached rowboat under coconut palms] n.d. Oil on Upson board 23 ¼ x 35 ¼ in. Courtesy of the Walker Collection © Harold Newton 

Roy McLendon, Untitled [Old wooden bridge with two people] n.d. Oil on Upson board 23 x 34 ¾ in. Courtesy of the Schlesinger Collection © Roy McLendon. 

. . .
you see, many of these paintings were often devoid of Black figures
occasionally they appeared, but only on occasion
more ubiquitous were the trio of bent (torqued) palm trees
swaying as equally to the right as to the left
with a rhythm that “spoke” of
Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Sam Cook, Ray Charles and Etta James,
at last… sexy, ferocious, a riot of hues, pigments, motion, stillness
and yes, hush
. . .

Harold Newton, Untitled [Breezy day on Indian River Road] n.d. Oil on Upson board 22 x 28 in. Courtesy of the Lightle Collection © Harold Newton. 

. . .
Harold Newton’s Royal Poinciana tree (in full bloom) its gnarled trunk cantilevered above the ground,
the landscape littered with spent red blossoms
. . .

Harold Newton, Untitled [Royal poinciana] n.d. Oil on Upson board 23 ½ x 29 ¾ in. Courtesy of the Asselstine Collection © Harold Newton. 

. . .
James Gibson’s untitled (Moonlit Palms) suspended above the water, unseen Moon
bathes a trio of palms with a backlit menace while a gaggle of egrets
illuminated like snowflakes in the far distance, wing their way north.
. . .

James Gibson, Untitled [Moonlit Palms] n.d. Oil on Upson board 22 ¾ x 46 ¾ in. Courtesy of the Jacobs Collection © James Gibson. 

. . .
Hot, verdant, expectant, and oh so color-full and filled with color, Roy McLendon’s
(untitled) Backcountry pond at sunset, the sun in an artistic blaze of virtuosity
never really sets and the temperature never falters.

The beautiful painting is warm on the eyes.
. . .

Roy McLendon, Untitled [Backcountry pond at sunset] n.d. Oil on Upson board 23 x 46 ¾ in. Courtesy of the Jacobs Collection © Roy McLendon. 

. . .
Al Hair who did not live much beyond his thirtieth birthday, was a very prolific artist.
and no two or ten paintings of his are exactly alike
each canvas has its own meditation, its own knowingness, its own jazz if you will
. . .

Harold Newton, Untitled [Hurricane] n.d. Oil on Upson board 27 x 47 in. Courtesy of the Schlesinger Collection © Harold Newton. 

. . .
nonetheless his fidelity for capturing what he saw in the landscapes of his youth and conveying that passion
to a host of likeminded artists and painters has created a lasting and delicious legacy,
which moves everyone of us when we look at his work and that of the other Highwaymen
to wander further, further down the road, Further down the road to Praise House
where we all hope to be received
. . .

Explore the work of the Florida Highwaymen on the
National Museum of African American History & Culture’s website

Find out more about Al Hair on the Highwaymen Trail website
and the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs website

All photographs by Tariq Gibran

Harold Newton, Untitled [Backcountry pine against a building thunderstorm] n.d. Oil on board 23 ¼ x 29 ¼ in. Courtesy of the Asselstine Collection © Harold Newton. 

Harold Newton, Untitled [1950’s life along Avenue D in Fort Pierce] n.d. Oil on canvas board 17 ½ x 23 ¾ in. Courtesy of the Walker Collection © Harold Newton.