Roy McLendon’s artwork is part of Florida’s cultural identity. He is one of the original Florida Highwaymen, a group of self-taught, African American artists who started their careers selling paintings along the roadsides of South Florida in the early 1950s and ended up creating an artistic movement.
The “Highwaymen” didn’t exist, so to speak, until 1994, when art aficionado, Jim Fitch, assigned the name to a then unknown group of African-American artists. Suddenly, thousands of the Florida landscape paintings they had produced since the middle 1950s, which had been stored for years in Florida attics, were brought down, dusted off, and viewed with renewed interest. Until Fitch came up with the controversial (because of the bandit connotation), but, nevertheless , perfectly suited name for the self-taught painters, they remained unknown – unrecognized. But according to the Highwaymen, anonymity was perfectly all right. Even if traveling the roads of Florida during the time of segregation wasn’t dangerous enough, and if being young and carefree while roaming town streets with a stack of framed paintings wasn’t suspicious enough, they certainly did not want to be asked to produce sales licenses and risk being jailed for solicitation. To them, time was money, and money meant more than sustenance. It was a way to keep score in their invented game of artistic entrepreneurship.
From “The Highwaymen,” a biographical account of the artists written by Gary Monroe, patrons who purchased McLendon’s early artwork did so simply because they liked his paintings. There was no thought of the artistic, cultural or monetary value they would hold in the future. One man tells the story of buying a McLendon painting at a garage sale because he liked hunting and the painting gave him a sense of being out in the woods. Over twenty years ago, a young bank teller wanted to buy a painting as an anniversary gift for her parents in Pennsylvania. She didn’t have enough money to pay for it all at once, so Mr. McLendon saved the painting and allowed her to pay in installments. Another woman has more than 100 of McLendon’s paintings and says she has no intention of displaying her collection. Even with all the popularity surrounding the work, she says she bought the paintings because she loves them and they are hers to look at and enjoy. Ironically, her father told her she was wasting her money buying so many paintings from an unknown artist like McLendon.
Roy McLendon and the Florida Highwaymen undoubtedly helped shape the modern idea of Florida that millions visit every year. McLendon’s art is a blend of memory coupled with his sense of beauty, capturing the essence of Florida. His work is not post-modern or contemporary, decidedly artsy or cutting edge. It is uniquely Floridian. McLendon’s natural ability to express his vision through paint and canvas is a testament to his incredible talent.
In 2004, Mr. McLendon, with the original Florida Highwaymen, was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame.
In 2010, he was commissioned to create 9 works of art for the New Amway Center, the home of the Orlando Magic.
His works have been featured in such publications as Southern Living and ESPN magazines.
Mr. McLendon’s paintings can be found on display at the Florida House, in the “goodwill embassy” in Washington, D.C.; the R.A. Gray Building, Division of Cultural Affairs, in Tallahassee; the Orange County History Center, in Orlando, and in numerous art galleries and private collections throughout Florida.