> On the road
> April 15, 2005

> Travelers along Florida highways in the 1950s and '60s might
> remember odd characters standing along the road selling
> paintings.  In those days African-American artists, particularly
> in the South, had trouble getting work into galleries.
> Self-taught Alfred Hair, James Gibson, Al Black, Willie Daniels,
> Robert Lewis, Mary Ann Carroll, and others typically sold their
> work for $25.  The group came to be known as "The Highwaymen"
> and their work now demands big bucks from serious collectors. 
> In my less palmy days I hung my paintings along the iron fence
> on Bayswater Road in London, England.  Carol and I were
> returning from Spain with a Volkswagen bus-full.  On several
> Sundays we stood in the rain, made friends and sold a few.
> Nothing like the guy who was set up beside us.  He had hundreds
> of unimaginative front views of pussy-cats painted on odd-shaped
> barn-boards.  People were lining up for them.  At the end of the
> day he announced the number of cats he had "flogged."  That's
> when I learned that selling on the road has charm but no class.
> Some years later I was painting for joy in a Picardy town when a
> passing Brit took pity on me and offered to buy the painting.  A
> thoroughly decent chap, he looked at my clothes and used words
> like "struggle" and "poverty."  I turned him down.  I think he
> was a bit miffed when later he saw me roaring through town in my
> Alfa.  That's when I learned that if you happen to be on the
> road, people will have attitudes.
> The road is not ideal for flogging.  The best flogging these
> days is done under another name in a proper gallery.  My London
> dealer used to refer to it as "placing."  "We placed a fine oil
> with Lord So-and-so," he told me.  The Lord sent his Rolls to
> pick it up--I watched his driver come into the gallery and fetch
> it.  The Lord's excellent shoes never touched the road.
> No, the road is a place you wander along to look for stuff.  For
> many artists the automobile is its magic carpet.  In our family
> we call it "mosey driving."  It's golden.  We're privileged.
> But it wasn't always that way.  Alfred Hair and his friends had
> no choice.  They loved to paint and they needed to sell.  In
> those days The Highwaymen didn't own cars.  Many do now.
> Artists will do what they have to do.
> Best regards,
> Robert
> PS: "The stomach is the teacher of the arts and the dispenser of
> invention." (Persius 34-62)  "Let your mind wander." (Alfred
> Hair, 1941-1970)
> Esoterica:  In "The Highwaymen," author Gary Monroe tells the
> story of 26 painters from Ft. Pierce, Florida--their collective
> enterprise, unschooled abilities and cultural heritage.  While
> Hair died young, some of the originals are still painting the
> Royal Poinciana Trees and the sunsets.  Lawren Harris once said:
> "Art must take to the road and risk all for the glory of
> adventure."  It struck me that it might be fun to gather some
> "road" stories from our readers.  If you have one and you'd like
> to share it, please send it in.  We'll put a selection in the
> next clickback.
> Current clickback: If you would like to see selected,
> illustrated responses to the last letter, "General anxiety"
> please go to:
> http://www.painterskeys.com/clickbacks/artist-anxiety.asp
> Yes, please go ahead and forward this letter to a friend.
> If you would like to comment or add your own opinions,
> information or observations, please do so.  Just click "reply"
> on this letter or write rgenn@saraphina.com
> If you think a friend or fellow artist may find value in this
> material, please feel free to forward it.  This does not mean
> that they will automatically be subscribed to the Twice-Weekly
> Letter.  They have to do it voluntarily and can find out about
> it by going to http://www.painterskeys.com
> The Twice-Weekly Letters are in Russian at
> http://painterskeys.narod.ru/  and in French at
> http://www.painterskeys.com/fr/
> In compliance with the welcome legislation on spamming, our
> mailing address is: Painter's Keys, 12711 Beckett Rd., Surrey,
> B.C., Canada, V4A 2W9.