Paintings of Nostalgic Florida by Original Highwaymen, RL Lewis and Curtis Arnett
This exhibit highlights the landscape works of 2 Highwaymen, RL Lewis and Curtis Arnett, who made a living selling them door-to-door to businesses and individuals throughout Florida from the mid-1950s through the 1980s. They also sold their work from the trunks of their cars along the eastern coastal roads like A1A and US 1, hence the name Highwaymen.
Their paintings offer glimpses of Florida many people will never experience – open spaces, wildlife roaming freely. Times have certainly changed. Paintings that were once sold along the side of the road for $20 – $30 are now selling for thousands of dollars in galleries and antique stores. What started as a group of painters just trying to make a living has evolved into an era in Florida’s art history that spanned a 30-year period with more than 200,000 paintings.
The Highwaymen created large numbers of relatively inexpensive landscape paintings using construction materials rather than traditional art supplies. As no galleries would accept their work, they sold them in towns and cities and along roadsides throughout Florida, often still wet, out of the trunks of their cars. Their success and longevity is remarkable considering they began their career in the racially unsettled and violent times of the 50s in Florida and amid the social conditions of the South where the stirrings of the civil rights movement were only just beginning. They have been called “The Last Great American Art Movement of the 20th century”.
R.L. Lewis is known for his bold use of color in his work, a constant throughout his decades of painting. He uses color to display the mood he is experiencing. Bright colors make the meaning clear. Inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame in 2004, Lewis’ work hung at the Smithsonian as part of the exhibition A Florida Original: RL Lewis and the Highwaymen Tradition” in 2003-2004, and he received a National Endowment for the Arts grant (2003-2005) for his project Preserving the Highwaymen Tradition. Robert L. Lewis continues to live, work and paint in Cocoa, FL, and is a frequent guest, lecturer, and teacher at schools and galleries throughout Florida.
Curtis Arnett was born in Greenville, FL. Arnett is one of the youngest of the Highwaymen. With an early interest in art, he began experimenting with paint after a visit to his high school by Alfred Hair. Arnett also got to know Bean Backus and later Robert Butler. Unlike other Highwaymen, Arnett painted with acrylics instead of oil-based paint. His paintings feature hammocks, swamps and cypress trees.
The exhibit will continue from June 4 until June 29, 2022.
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