Without labels to identify the artists, the average gallery visitor would probably be hard-pressed to distinguish between works by the two generations of Highwaymen. With few exceptions -- most notably, Robert Butler's handful of images set in mountains around the world -- the subject matter and technique are largely the same. And anyway, Highwaymen art has never been primarily about flashy technique. It's not even especially significant that most of the paintings here are on canvas, because Upson board has long been unavailable, and the original Highwaymen moved on to canvas and Masonite as soon as they could.
So, to reiterate, what makes a Highwaymen painting a Highwaymen painting? A family connection? Most of the second-generation painters in this show share a name with one of the original Highwaymen, although there are no text panels to elaborate. And when successive generations of artists continue to work in a particular style long after the circumstances that prompted it have changed, is it affectation, or is it carrying on an artistic legacy? If the latter, does the quality of the art merit sustaining a tradition?
"Paint fast, sell quickly." Sometimes the results were wonderful. Remember When by Johnny Daniel.
Heron on the River by Dorene Butler.
On display through August 21. Call 954-625-2800.
African-American Research Library and Cultural Center, 2650 Sistrunk Blvd., Fort Lauderdale
I don't have answers to any of these questions, but I think the discussion and curiosity they provoke are useful and stimulating. As for this exhibition, taken strictly on its own terms, it's a mixed bag: People who already have some appreciation of the Highwaymen may come away a little frustrated that the show's presentation doesn't do them justice, while those who are unfamiliar with the art (and the artists) may wonder what all the fuss is about. Still, the trip the Highwaymen take us on is worth taking, and the stops along the way are worth making, even if we're unsure of our ultimate destination.