Highwaymen

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Last summer, Art Link International first featured an exhibit by Florida's famed Highwaymen, a group of 26 African-American artists who in the late '50s began selling oil paintings from the trunks of their cars (hence the name). The current exhibit, featuring a retrospective of Roy McLendon, the oldest original surviving Highwayman, as well as artwork by McLendon's son, Roy Jr., and A.E. "Bean" Backus, the white Southerner who influenced and mentored many of the artists a half-century ago, is much different. Referred to as "Florida's outsider artists," the Highwaymen's artistic training was limited to what they learned from watching Backus. The subject matter consists solely of old-Florida landscapes -- mainly swamplands and beaches -- with seldom a human figure to be found in the nearly 200-piece exhibit. While formally trained painters normally draw up rough sketches before committing to paint, the 72-year-old McLendon says he paints entirely from memory, with a little imagination thrown in to fill in the cognitive gaps. However, you'd be hard-pressed to tell that the scenes are largely fictional; McLendon's attention to detail and deep understanding of Florida's natural scenery makes you think you're right there looking at it -- or at least that McLendon was. The remainder of the exhibit -- which includes works by Sam Newton, Ellis Buckner, Johnny Daniels, James Gibson, and others -- is more of the same. Some are more precisely painted than others, with hints of impressionism in the brush strokes and occasional Baroque highlights shimmering in the trees. Taken as a whole, the exhibit is a nostalgic glimpse of our Land of Flowers that can never be recaptured. (Through July 31 at Art Link International, 809 Lucerne Ave., Lake Worth. Call 561-493-1162.) -- Jason Budjinski

 
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