Rodney Demps: (1953- )
Born: Fort Pierce, Florida
Rodney Demps’ artistic talent extends beyond his landscape paintings. The interior and part of the exterior of his home are covered with drawings, paintings, and collage that document the ways in which he has experienced the world. His landscape paintings are unique and emotionally charged. As a man rich in imagination, the boundaries between his life and art are fluid.
Rodney Demps' great-grandmother, a Native American from Nassau, raised him during his early years. She was a shrewd businesswoman who owned a grocery store and a nightclub. His mother, who was very young when he was born, lived down the street. His father was Thomas Demps, the director of the Bethune-Cookman choir. He traveled frequently and Rodney rarely saw him. As a young boy, Rodney took groceries from his great-grandmother’s store to his mother’s house.
Rodney attended Lincoln Park Academy, and in the 8th grade, he became interested in art. Zanobia Jefferson was his art teacher and he remembers creating a very large painting while in her class. She took him to meet Bean Backus who gave him his first art supplies and a few painting tips as he watched him work.(Zanobia Jefferson was Alfreds Hair art teacher who also introduced Alfred to Beane Backus).
Rodney spent time with Alfred 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 remembers that Alfred “had piles of money,” and he painted very fast, so fast that his “arms moved like a machine.” Like Backus, Alfred painted every day.
Rodney soon started creating his own landscapes, but he didn’t go on the road selling because he was so busy learning to paint. “Oil is messy,” he explains. “Then the more you do it, it gets cleaner and cleaner until you get it real sharp.” When Hair died in 1970, Rodney started painting with Sam Newton who lived on Avenue D. He liked Sam’s energy and recognized his talent.
After transferring to and graduating from Fort Pierce Central High School in 1971, he went to Florida A & M where he majored in Physical Education and Naval Science. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in 1977, he joined the marines. He spent two years and eleven days in Quantico, Virginia, until he learned that he was to be transferred to Japan. Not wanting to go to Japan, he was sent home to Fort Pierce.
Rodney coached and taught physical education, grades 7-12, for twenty-four years. During this time, he stopped painting. When he retired in 2001, he once again began to paint.
Rodney never sold on the road like so many of the other Highwaymen did. Instead, he sold his work from his home, which he continues to do today. On occasion, he travels to art shows to make sales. Full of talent, he is an artist whose landscape painting plays only one part of his abundantly creative world. Rodney Demps is known as the Surrealist Highwayman. He married Shearon Hill in the 1970's and had three children; the marriage did not last.
Rodney Demps Biography information: obtained from website thehighwaymentrail.com. This website is a fantastic reference to learn about the 26 Florida Highwaymen artists and their importance to Florida's history.