Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Beyond the Highways and Byways – a Journey of Heart and Soul

"Arabesque" oil on canvas
The above canvas was painted from a pond near my home. The birds were those I see fluttering in and out almost every day; the great egrets and the snowy egrets. Herons come frequently as do anhinga and the little blues (small herons); but I wanted white birds against the dark water.

When someone told me that my work reminded them of the Highwaymen of early Florida, I thought it was a backhanded insult. The Highwaymen were unschooled black people who taught themselves to paint and then sold their wares on the cheap to tourists driving along the roadways and trails.

 For the most part, I was a self-taught artist much like them. Finally, their work has gained the recognition it deserves. According to their web site, “The Florida Highwaymen Artists” were the start of Florida's contemporary art tradition, and are credited for the beginning of the "Indian River School" art movement.
“They developed their own individual techniques and captured waterscapes, back country marshes, and inlets the way they once were before recent tourism developments.

“From the beginning, there were people who collected Florida Highwaymen art and paintings. However only in recent years has the recognition of their skill and their story caused their paintings to skyrocket in value.  In 2004, twenty-six individuals were inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame as "Florida Highwaymen."

To read their names go to this link:

Artists who work hard for their degrees and accolades often resent the success of those who are less educated than they . The work of self-taught artists as they struggle to improve their skill through error and practice is sometimes looked upon with a critical eye and disdain. Like the highwaymen of the past, these artists may not have the funds or wherewithal for supplies let alone education.

I became acquainted with an African artist who asked if I could purchase some brushes and send them to him. He had been painting on brown paper bags for lack of a canvas. Some use wood from nearby palm trees or they paint on shells or other natural surfaces from their environment.

Painters in Iraq and other war torn countries face the same difficulties. Yet their artwork is vibrant, sometimes shocking, and unquestionably moving. When will we mature enough as artists to recognize that art is communication? It represents who we are, what we feel and what we have experienced.

Art can teach us about other people in a way that words cannot. Whether it’s the beauty we see that we wish to share, or the pain and anguish of a broken world, or the loss of a loved one. 

How we experience art tells us a lot about ourselves. Do we recognize beauty for what it is or does our critical eye keep us from hearing the message? Are we able to see beyond cultural barriers into the soul of another? Do our prejudices produce a wall instead of a door? Do we see the “thorn on the rose” rather than the bloom?

"Window on Pine Island" Oil on wrapped canvas.