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.''

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.).