Alfred Hair: Heart of the Highwaymen Revives a Forgotten Florida Artist

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Editor’s Note: These paintings by Alfred Hair are from the new book “Alfred Hair: Heart of the Highwaymen“. The book was written by Gary Monroe and published by University Press of Florida.

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 few 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.

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Gary Monroe

Gary Monroe, a native of Miami Beach, received a master's degree in fine arts from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1977.