Original Florida Highwayman creates mural in Gainesville

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Original Florida Highwayman creates mural in Gainesville
Legendary “Florida Highwaymen” Al Black, completes a mural for the City of Gainesville’s 352walls program, one of his first in many years.

GAINESVILLE, FLA.- Gainesville’s newest 352walls mural has been created by one of the original and most charismatic of all the “Florida Highwaymen,” Al Black. The Florida Highwaymen, began with 9 original members, Al Black being one. This collective of artists grew to be made up of 25 men and one woman. They were comprised of young African Americans, primarily from the Fort Pierce, Florida area and emerged in the late 1950s. They ultimately became successful landscape artists, using the roadside to sell their work, often from the trunk of their cars. This collective was mostly self-taught or learned from each other.

Their vibrant paintings depicted idyllic images of palm trees, the ocean, sunsets, birds and Poinciana trees. These fantasy landscapes were then sold up and down the highways of the Atlantic Coast.

By the late 1960s this collective, was making more money than they had ever imagined, and Al Black was the group's “best” salesman. Black, born in Mississippi in 1946, consequently learned to paint by repairing pieces the group’s artwork that had been damaged while loading it, often still with wet paint, into his vehicle.

Over time, the market for the paintings declined and life changed for the collective. In 1997 Al Black fell on hard times and spent a decade in numerous correctional facilities in Florida.

By the late-1990s, the “Florida Highwaymen” began to emerge from obscurity and the attention they deserved. In 2004, the 26 Highwaymen were inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame. Articles about them began to appear in the national media. As a result, Al Black, while incarcerated at the Central Florida Reception Center, was recognized as one of the Highwaymen artists by a prison medical director. He was subsequently permitted, and encouraged, to paint murals throughout the facility and in other prisons. Ironically, this became his most productive period as a visual artist. By 2006, he had created over 100 murals for the Florida Department of Corrections. Photos of this work can be seen in Gary Monroe’s book, The Highwaymen Murals: Al Black’s Concrete Dreams.

Black is now unburdened of the demons that brought him down and is, in his words, “in the grace, redeemed.” Now experiencing a renaissance in his career, Black spends much of his time painting and passing on his artistic gifts to others, creating a new generation of landscape artists. His paintings have also become highly collectable, though the 352walls mural is the first he has painted in many years.

This mural project was conceived by 352walls coordinator Raquel Vallejo and organized by Russell Etling, the City of Gainesville’s Cultural Affairs Manager. Black was assisted by regional muralist/graphic artist Fabian Sanchez throughout the painting process.

Support came from the Gainesville Art in Public Places Trust, Cinque Management, Inc. and the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Arts and Culture, the Florida Council on Arts and Culture, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

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