Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Self-Taught Southern Artist Purvis Young (1943-2010)

Miami artist Purvis Young dies at 67
Miami Herald, April 21, 2010.
Written by Fabiola Santiago & Audra D. S. Burch

"He had a very powerful personal voice,'' said art collector Mera Rubell.

We can all celebrate someone who experienced such terrible circumstances in his life -- prison, destitution -- but who found art powerfully redeeming. You usually write off people who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. For most people that's the end of the story. For Purvis, it was the beginning of the story.''

Young made exquisite, thoughtful art from the garbage he plucked off the streets of Overtown. Abandoned doors, cardboard, pieces of wood became canvases on which he painted faceless figures and horses that celebrated freedom and angels that he believed healed and guided his life. His interpretation of the flaws and beauty of Overtown introduced the neighborhood to the world of art and vice versa.

"I come alive at night,'' he told a Miami Herald reporter in an interview last year. "That's when I do most of my painting.''

His work was included in all of the major private collections in Miami and was exhibited at major art museums across the country. Several of his works are part of the permanent collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
"He wasn't particularly nurtured, yet was driven to do this work. He was just one of those people who was born with this extraordinary vision and stayed true to it, producing work that had a kind of mythical quality to it.''

Through his stylized figures, the Liberty City-born artist offered the narrative of urban Miami, its changing faces, the social impact of poverty, crime and displacement of his surroundings.

Among his subjects: blues and jazz musicians who made magic in the 1940s and '50s; neighborhoods choked by the oppression of racism.

"You are talking about art that literally jumped off the canvas, or the wood, or the metal or whatever he painted on,'' said Clare Vickery, owner of Grace Cafe and Galleries in Dania Beach, which sold Young works.
"People who had never seen his work and people who had known art all of their lives were transfixed by his work. It was so full of life, passion, sadness, triumph and defeat.''

In 2000, the Wynwood-based Rubell Family Collection purchased the contents of Young's studio -- works created between 1985-1999 -- with the aim of cataloging and donating the work to public U.S. institutions. Two years ago, the Rubells donated a collection of 109 Young paintings valued at more than $1 million to Morehouse College in Atlanta. The works now hang at the college's Martin Luther King Chapel.

The Rubells also donated works to the Miami Art Museum, the Bass Museum and The Black Archives, which houses at the Lyric Historic Theater Purvis Young Returns to Overtown, a collection that describes Overtown's history and its people. The show A Tribute to Purvis Young is on view through April 30 at Nina Torres Gallery in Wynwood.

In 2003, the Smithsonian selected Young's work to be included in African American Masters: Highlights from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, a traveling exhibition that included pedigreed names such as Romare Bearden, William H. Johnson and Jacob Lawrence.


"Purvis was one of the great geniuses of American art, a remarkable figure,'' said Jacquelyn Serwer, chief curator of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, which breaks ground in 2012 small;">IN A FILM

Three years later, Purvis of Overtown, a documentary about Young's rise was shown at the Miami International Film Festival. Directed by Shaun Conrad and David Raccuglia, the film chronicles the journey: the early days in Overtown, the celebrations of his works.

Young did not take the business side of his art seriously.

He sometimes gave his art away and people often took advantage of him, friends said. A 2007 court battle with a former business manager landed him two guardians -- one overseeing business matters, the other in charge of health decisions.

He remained a beloved figure, an Overtown son who still liked to ride his bike through the neighborhood where he grew up. Two years ago, Miami officials said thank you in the form of a key to the city.

"Some say he is too prolific, but that's like saying birds fly too much or that Shakespeare wrote too much,'' former Commissioner Joe Sánchez said at the time. "He's my friend, your friend, an icon.''

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