Johnny Daniels

Highwaymen Artist

Johnny Daniels

The youngest of the original 26 Florida Highwaymen painters, Johnny Daniels was born in 1954 in Quincy, Fla. and raised in Fort Pierce. Discovering the Highwaymen painters who worked in Fort Pierce sometime in the early 60s, Daniels began making frames for the Highwaymen’s work and was paid 50 cents per frame, watching and learning from the senior painters Alfred Hair and Livingston Roberts. “Johnny was probably 13 or 14 when he started painting,” Alfred Hair’s son Kelvin Hair told the TC Palm in a 2009 article. “He’d hang out with my father and Willie (Daniels) while they painted. Actually, he started by making frames for them and learned to paint from them.”

AJ Brown, a “2nd Generation Highwaymen” artist – a term often used to describe artists who, mentored or taught by some of the original group, paint in the same style today – recounted to the Rickie Report blog how Daniels first began painting by filling in Willie Daniel’s – his older brother and another member of the original 26 Highwaymen – scenes when he wasn’t looking. “Not fond of his younger brother’s habits,” AJ Brown wrote, “one day Willie decided to take Johnny to the fields to pick oranges. He made enough money to buy his own art supplies and never stopped painting!”

Because of his younger age and his relatively late start as a painter in the Highwaymen group, questions have occasionally risen as to whether Daniels should be considered one of the “original” Highwaymen. “Some books and people talk about (Johnny Daniels) as a second-generation member of the Highwaymen,” James Gibson, an original member of the Highwaymen told the TC Palm in the 2009 article, “and there were definitely those who came along on our coattails after our paintings started getting popular and prices went up. But I consider Johnny to be one of us, one of the originals.”

Daniels died of complications from a heart condition in 2009 at the young age of 54.  Apart from his paintings, perhaps the greatest legacy he left behind was as a teacher and mentor to “2nd Generation” painters like Kelvin Hair, who was only five when his father was murdered in 1970, as well as AJ Brown and many others who continue to work in the Highwaymen style in both Fort Pierce and around Florida. “He never charged anyone of them,” Hair told the TC Palm. “He was a great guy.” 

Inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame in 2004, Daniels’ paintings are known for his use of a palette knife to create thick applications of paint and a contrast of warm yellows, reds, and oranges against cooler tones of blues and whites. Often depicting birds, bears, and fish, The Highwaymen Trail, a heritage trail organization run by the city of Fort Pierce and the Florida Humanities Council, describes his best paintings as having a consistent color palette, solid composition, and a detailed rendering of lush foliage and “dreamy skies.”

Johnny Daniels Interview

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