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ART Talks with Florida Highwayman

Curtis Arnett

By Brea Hollingsworth| Contributor
On February 18, 2017

With the stroke of a brush, some oil paint, and an empty canvas full of opportunity, Curtis Arnett and the Florida Highwaymen are some of the most demanded landscape artists today.

The Florida Highwaymen were a group of self-taught African American artists, 25 males and one female, who painted some of Florida’s most beautiful landscapes.

The group started in the early 1950’s after they were turned away from galleries who did not want to accept work from unknown African American artists.

“Since we couldn’t go to the galleries, what we did was we took our work to the people,” said Arnett.

The Florida Highwaymen started selling their artwork on the side of highways for people to see, hence why they got the name "Florida Highwaymen.”

Born in Greenville and raised in Fort. Pierce, Arnett started painting at the young age of seven years old. He recalls painting images of Lois Lane and Clarke Kent with watercolors on cardboard.

Arnett was intrigued by the works of a man named A.E. “Bean” Backus. Backus, who also spent his art career painting images of Florida landscapes, is credited for inspiring the Florida Highwaymen to draw images of Florida landscapes.

Arnett met Backus at the age of 12 and asked Backus if he could teach him his techniques.

“He said no I don’t teach anymore, but if you bring your work to me I can critique it and I will help you,” said Arnett.

He and Backus built a friendship until Backus’ death in 1990.

Throughout Arnett’s career he has made over a thousand paintings. He says he enjoys painting landscapes in central Florida.

Arnett’s presentation is just a small part of a series called “ARTalks” which is put on by the FAMU College of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities’ Visual Arts Program.

“I started organizing ARTalks this year. The idea is to bring our visual arts students and students who are taking classes in our department a range of different ideas, thoughts, and practices, from not only artists, but also art historians and other art professionals that are working in the field,” said Art professor, Courtnay Micots. Micots has only been teaching for a year and a half at FAMU.

ARTalks also left a lasting impression on the students who attended. Sophomore Pre-Nursing student, Antonia Marshall said she wasn’t even into art but has changed her mind after seeing Arnett’s presentation.

“I thought he was just going to talk so when he started painting I was like ‘wow, I’m really interested in this.’ It made me want to try to do art,” said Marshall.

The next ARTalk is scheduled for March 17th and will feature artist, Mary Proctor.

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