“This is what you need to do to fight the pain and change your life and history.”

I love learning about people’s histories. Their backstories are often amazing. Such is the case with Onicas Gaddis. Even his name must have a story.

Art saved my life,” says Onicas Gaddis.

As a child, he was stuck in the foster home system, a constant cycle of not knowing where he would be living next.

“Every home I got transferred to they said, ‘Just give him a pencil and paper and he’ll be all right.’”

He prizes spontaneity.

“Onicas Gaddis taught himself to draw, and he learned how to paint from abstract expressionist Sarah Carlisle Towery, an alumnus of Black Mountain College whose family launched the Alabama Art Colony.”

Many artists, like me, share elements of his story.

“Sometimes I’d think, ‘Am I going to buy a sandwich or a canvas?’ — and then I’d think, ‘I can go hungry another day.’ But every now and then, when I only have twelve cents in my account, I’ll sell a painting.”

His family background is fascinating.

“Gaddis’ uncle, S. M. (Sylvester) Wells, is one of the now-legendary Florida Highwaymen — a group of largely self-taught African American painters (including one woman) who, from the 1950s through the ’80s, forged a collective identity, and a living, traveling and selling their natural Florida landscapes.”

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