Curtis Arnett

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(b.1950)

His Story
Curtis Arnett is one of the youngest Highwaymen. Inspired to paint at an early age, he attributes most of his success to Hezekiah Baker who mentored him. Ambitious in many ways, he earned a black-belt in karate by the early 1970s.

He was born in 1950, in Greenville, Florida, a small town near the Florida/Georgia line. Curtis and his family moved to Fort Pierce in 1955. He attended Lincoln Park Academy and graduated from Dan McCarthy High School.

His interest in art began when he was young. He enjoyed drawing pictures of favorite characters from popular culture, such as Clark Kent and Lois Lane from Superman comic books. After receiving a watercolor set for Christmas one year, his drawings became paintings.

He had never heard of oil paints until Alfred Hair came to his school to demonstrate some basic painting techniques and how to make frames. After Alfred’s presentation, he went home and began experimenting. He explained, “I used leftover paint from paint cans I found at house construction sites and painted on construction board.” He first saw oil paints in tubes up close when he watched Harold Newton paint.

Curtis then met Bean Backus and this encounter caused him to think seriously about painting landscapes. He remembered, “One day I rode a bicycle to Indian River to fish and saw a paint palette in the backyard where A. E. ‘Beanie’ Backus lived. His studio was open and I went in. God, his paintings were beautiful. I asked if he would teach me, and he said ‘no. But bring your work and I’ll help you.’ He gave me two brushes, a palette knife and 10 or 12 tubes of paint. Back home, I stared painting on plywood and later on Upson board.” Inspired by Backus and Hair, he started spending time with other aspiring artists in his neighborhood.

He sold his first painting, which was 12 by 24 inches, for $6 when he was sixteen.  By the time he was seventeen, Curtis was selling on the road, earning $25 a painting. “I would just get in my car, load up my paintings and go,” he said. “My primary route was US1 to Delray, then west to Okeechobee and Arcadia and north to Daytona. I stopped at professional offices and places of businesses to show my work.” He remembers being welcomed most everywhere he went. Customers would ask when he was coming back and he would set up dates to return with more paintings. He discovered that the best days to show up at a business were paydays.

Robert Butler writes that Curtis would visit him in the 1970s when he lived in Okeechobee. They discussed painting techniques and the kinds of tools they could use. Curtis was interested in fan brushes and subject matter that extended beyond what typical for other Fort Pierce painters. Like Robert, he loved the interior swamplands of Florida, and was greatly influenced by his hunting experiences.

After selling on the road for a while, he met Hezekiah Baker. Curtis showed him his work and Hezekiah began mentoring him. “He looked at what I had and started me all over again. I got my experience from him,” Curtis explained to a reporter. H started using acrylic paints and charging $300 to $1,000 a painting.

Over the years, Curtis has worked various jobs, most often in security. He has four children and several grandchildren and lives in Fort Pierce.

His Painting
Curtis Arnett’s paintings grew from scenes of palm trees and rivers to seascapes and depictions of Florida’s interior. His later works stand out from other Highwaymen’s landscapes because they are created using acrylics, a water-soluble paint that dries more quickly than oils and is better for painting sharp edges. He is best known for his works centering on cypress trees, swamp scenes, and hammocks. Curtis likes to play with reflections in the water, with both shape and color. His work is dreamy and serene, evoking a calm peacefulness.

 

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