> 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,
> 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:
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