The undervalued force behind the Highwaymen phenomenon
“Hair’s story is fascinating. The themes Monroe discusses are relevant to today’s sociopolitical climate as we further evaluate our sense of place and how place informs our self-identity. The book highlights and elevates a genre of art long considered ‘kitsch’ and prompts discussions on how we evaluate artistic practices outside of the canon or art market.”—Joanna Robotham, curator of modern and contemporary art, Tampa Museum of Art
“Alfred Hair painted the Florida landscape as if it was a dream that everyone wanted to hold onto. His success in achieving this as an artist in the Jim Crow South makes his life’s story particularly poignant, as masterfully told by Gary Monroe.”—Irvin Lippman, executive director, Boca Raton Museum of Art “Hair’s brief life has demanded a biography worthy of his luminous landscapes. Monroe has given him the tribute he deserves.”—Evan P. Bennett, author of When Tobacco Was King: Families, Farm Labor, and Federal Policy in the Piedmont
A long-awaited testament to the life and work of Alfred Hair, the driving force of the Florida Highwaymen, this book introduces a charismatic personality whose energy and creativity were foundational to the success of his fellow African American artists during the era of Jim Crow segregation.
Shot and killed in a barfight at the age of 29, Hair lived his short life fully, with a zest and intensity that informed his art. In high school he made canvas frames in the Fort Pierce studio of A. E. Backus, the painter who inspired the style of the Highwaymen, and soon became the artist’s protégé. By the time Hair graduated in 1961, he was painting luminous South Florida landscapes and selling them door to door. One of the only formally trained Highwaymen, he spurred on the collective of artists as they traversed the state in search of the white clientele who would buy their artwork.
Hair’s paintings, reproduced here in brilliant color, are marked by their spontaneous, gestural, carefree flair. He was known for his fast painting, which yielded a sense of place well-suited for Florida’s postwar residents. These oil paintings hung in their homes and offices like trophies. Sold before the oils were dry, Hair’s paintings appeared to their first owners to glow from within. “Alfred could paint as fast as he wanted and as good as he wanted,” said Highwayman Al Black. Hair would work on as many as 20 paintings at once to make more money. His goal, as he often declared, was to be a millionaire.
Gary Monroe describes Hair’s upbringing, growth as an artist, and romantic escapades and marriage, ending with the tragic events that unfolded at the juke joint known as Eddie’s Place the night of August 9, 1970. Alfred Hair remembers a man who lifted the spirits of the Highwaymen painters and enhanced the idea of Florida through his art.
Gary Monroe, retired professor of fine arts and photography at Daytona State College, is the author of numerous books, including The Highwaymen: Florida’s African-American Landscape Painters, Mary Ann Carroll: First Lady of the Highwaymen, The Highwaymen Murals: Al Black’s Concrete Dreams, and Harold Newton: The Original Highwayman.
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