Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Self-Taught Southern Artist Purvis Young at the Miami Art Museum

"Some say he is too prolific, but that's like saying birds fly too much or that Shakespeare wrote too much," said former Miami Commissioner Joe Sánchez from the Miami Herald.

Purvis Young, Capsize, (Davy Jones Locker)

MIAMI, FL.- Yesterday the Miami Art Museum opened a new exhibition in the Focus Gallery section of its Permanent Collection installation, dedicated to works by the late Purvis Young. Focus Gallery: Purvis Young (July 30 - November 7, 2010) features a selection of Young’s paintings from the museum’s permanent collection that span the career of the celebrated, self-taught Miami painter who passed away in April of this year at the age of 67.

Purvis Young’s work reflects the condition experienced by residents of Miami’s Overtown, the historic African American neighborhood that was transformed from a thriving community to an impoverished inner-city environment in the 1960’s and 70’s, when interstate 95 was erected. Against this backdrop, Young’s work serves as inspiration for the capacity of the creative spirit to reclaim, transform, restore and renew.

Through the decades, Young served as an eyewitness to changes in social conditions and Miami’s transformation from a modest city to a bustling metropolis that now carries many of the social, economic, and political problems that come with being a large city,” said Peter Boswell, MAM assistant director for programs/senior curator.

In this context, Young’s paintings act as a form of protest against injustice and as a testament to the resiliency of the human spirit in the midst of often dehumanizing urban conditions.”
Purvis Young is often and erroneously referred to as an “Outsider” artist, a term reserved for untrained artists with no concept of art, other than their own. Contrary to the term ‘Outsider’, Young was inspired by what he saw and read of the works by Van Gogh, Rubens, Rembrandt and Cézanne from books in the public library, as well as National Geographic magazine and public television documentaries.

He was introduced to art as a child by relatives who were figurative artists and cartoonists. Although he was never formally trained, Purvis Young was socially and artistically aware. Limited in the resources available to him at the time he began painting, Young used whatever materials he could find on the street, scrap lumber, parts of packing crates, and cast-off doors. He initially gained public attention over 25 years ago by hanging his paintings on the fences and exteriors of buildings on a three block length of NW 14th St. in Overtown known as Goodbread Alley.

Even after gaining fame and financial stability, most of his paintings were executed with house paint on wood that has been exposed to the elements, resulting in the extremely raw quality that his work displays. His imagery includes wild horses, marching people, railroad tracks, pregnant women and angel heads. Young has explained that they represent various life experiences and that they each symbolize a vision of hope.

And this from Time Magazine on May 20, 2010...

For four decades, self-taught artist Purvis Young, who died April 20 at 67, celebrated American life in his paintings, drawings and mixed-media assemblages. His artistic iconography--horses, pregnant women, trucks, basketball games, Haitian boat people and funerals--honestly documents contemporary African-American urban life in all its vibrancy, energy and action.

After Young was released from prison in the 1960s, he started to merge the influences of old masters like Rembrandt, El Greco and van Gogh with the activities of contemporary art. Inspired by the Black Arts Movement's Wall of Respect in Chicago, he had the idea of creating his own mural in Goodbread Alley in his Miami neighborhood of Overtown. The street art alerted people to Young's artistic ambitions.

Young was at ease in his studio too, producing large-scale paintings and countless sketchbooks. He would use a manila folder, plywood, furniture--whatever was at hand--as a surface to depict the people of Overtown, the events of our time and the rituals that bookend life. There is an electric cacophony to his work, which exudes a singular energy. Young's use of calligraphic line privileged spontaneity--whether he was working with a ball-point pen or house paint--and it was always confident, pulsing and lyrical.

"Rembrandt walked among the peoples, and that's what I do," Young told Florida's Sun-Sentinel in 1993. And though Young walked mostly among the people in Overtown, his art hangs in museums across the country.

The Time article was written by Brooke Davis Anderson, director & curator of the Contemporary Center at the American Folk Art Museum.).

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