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Rodney Demps was born in Fort Pierce, Florida in 1953. He attended Lincoln Park Academy where his art teacher Zanobia Jefferson cultivated his interest in painting. Through her, he was introduced to Bean Backus and Alfred Hair. It was at Backus’ studio that Demps was given his first art supplies and a few painting tips as he watched Backus work. 

Rodney grew close with Alfred and his wife as a teen. Doretha Hair would pick him up from school and take him to their house where Alfred would show him how to make frames and paint skies. After Rodney painted a series of skies, Alfred would follow up by depicting the landscape. Rodney soon started creating his own landscapes, but he didn’t go on the road selling because he was so busy learning to paint. He continued to work with Hair until he had passed in 1970, and then started painting with Sam Newton who lived on Avenue D. 

He stopped painting during the mid 1980s-2000’s during which he taught physical education for 24 years. He began painting again when interest returned and truly developed his own style apart from the group. Often he is considered the “Surrealist Highwaymen”, which is very clear when viewing his art compared to the rest of the Highwaymen. He seldom painted the normal Florida scenes, and often used vibrant colors and dreamy elements to enhance his work. His paintings feature whimsical palm trees, poincianas, or crashing waves that venture far from reality or conventional technique, but help create his own style of wildly imaginative landscapes. 

Demps attended shows and events occasionally but primarily sold work from his home. He continued to do so until he passed in 2020. 

Biographies are adapted from those on, one of the earliest informative websites on the Florida Highwaymen. Since the site is no longer active, we have provided them here.

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