Purvis Young (1943-2010)
Mixed media collage oil on poster board painting. Painted atop a voting advertisement sign.
Signed in multiple places on piece "Young".
Purvis Young (1943 – 2010) was an African American artist from the Overtown neighborhood of Miami, Florida. Young's work, often a blend of collage and painting, utilizes found objects and the experience of African Americans in the south. Purvis Young painted on scrap lumber, old doors, tax forms, street signs, cardboard and plywood that he scavenged from the streets and vacant lots of Overtown, the historically black neighborhood where he lived in Miami, Florida. Young gained recognition as a cult contemporary artist, with a collectors' following that included Jane Fonda, Damon Wayans, Jim Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, and others. In 2006 a feature documentary titled Purvis of Overtown was produced about his life and work. His work is found in the collections of the American Folk Art Museum, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the High Museum of Art, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and others. In 2018, he was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame.
Purvis Young was born in Liberty City, a neighborhood of Miami, Florida, on February 2, 1943. As a young boy, his uncle introduced him to drawing, but Young lost interest quickly. He never attended high school.
As a teenager, Young served three years (1961–64) in prison at North Florida's Raiford State Penitentiary for breaking and entering. While in prison he would regain his interest in art and began drawing and studying art books. When released, he began to produce thousands of small drawings, which he kept in shopping carts and later glued into discarded books and magazines that he found on the streets. He proceeded to move into the Overtown neighborhood of Miami. Young became attracted to a vacant alley called Goodbread Alley, which was named after the Jamaican bakeries that once occupied the street; he started living there in 1971.
In the early 1970s, Young found inspiration in the mural movements of Chicago and Detroit, and decided to create a mural of inspiration Overtown. He had never painted before, but inspiration struck and he began to create paintings and nailing them to the boarded up storefronts that formed the alley. He painted on wood he found on the streets and occasionally paintings would "disappear" from the wall, but Young didn't mind. About two years after starting the mural, tourists started visiting the alley, mainly white tourists. Occasionally, Young sold paintings to visitors - tourists and collectors alike - right off the wall. The mural garnered media attention, including the attention of millionaire Bernard Davis, owner of the Miami Art Museum. Davis became a patron of Young, providing him with painting supplies as well. Davis died in 1973, leaving Young a local celebrity in Miami.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, he explored other inspirations by watching historical documentaries about war, the Great Depression, commerce, and Native American conflicts and struggles in the United States. In 1999 the Rubell family, notable art collectors from New York, purchased the entire content of Young's studio, a collection of almost 3,000 pieces. In 2008 the Rubell's donated 108 works to Morehouse College
In 2015, The Bass Museum of Art announced that it is donating almost 400 pieces of Young's art to the permanent collection in the Black Archives History and Research Foundation of South Florida. The foundation is located in Lyric Theater in Overtown. Young found strong influence in Western art history and voraciously absorbed books from his nearby public library by Rembrandt, Vincent van Gogh, Gauguin, El Greco, Daumier and Pablo Picasso. His work was vibrant and colorful, and was described as appearing like fingerpainting. Reoccurring themes in his work were angels, wild horses, and urban landscapes. Through his works, he expressed social and racial issues, and served as an outspoken activist about politics and bureaucracy. Two Purvis Young works appear on the 2018 David Byrne album "American Utopia." He is included in the collection of the Metro-Miami Dade Cultural Center. Since its 1970 start, the Permanent Art Collection has been recognized nationally as a fearless reflection of Miami’s diversity, and an invaluable chronicle of its artistic and social history. Their collection includes Elizabeth Catlett, Purvis Young and Emilio Sanchez.
His work has since been included in numerous private collections and museums and was championed by the Joy Moos gallery, an influential gallery specializing in folk art, street art, self-taught visionary, outsider art and contemporary art (Galerie Moos, Montréal; Joy Moos Gallery, Miami. Joy was a recognized photographer, jewelry designer and interior decorator. She wrote a catalogue on Purvis Young and promoted Cuban artist Ramon Carulla. Her gallery also showed major contemporary artists such as Robert Rauschenberg of Captiva Island and Edward Ruscha of Los Angeles.
2020 "Prophets and Angels": Purvis Young & Édouard Vuillard, Shin Gallery New York, NY
2019 "Personal Structures" Palazzo Mora, Venice, Italy
2019 "Purvis Young" solo exhibition James Fuentes LLC, New York, NY
2018/2019 "Purvis Young" solo exhibition, Rubell Family Collection, Miami, FL (for Art Basel)
2018 "History Refused to Die" Group Exhibition, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC
2017 "Revelations" Group Exhibition, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, CA
2015 "50 for 50," LACMA, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Los Angeles, CA
2003 “African American Masters: Highlights from the Smithsonian American Art Museum,” New York Historical Society
1997 “Pictured in My Mind: Contemporary American Self-Taught Art from the Collection of Dr. Kurt Gitter and Alice Rae Yelen,” DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, Lincoln, MA “Bearing Witness: African-American Vernacular Art of the South,” Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York, NY “Purvis Young-The Streets of Overtown:
1996 “Souls Grown Deep: African American Vernacular Art of the South - The Arnett Collection,” Emory University
1994 “Purvis Young: Books and Works on Paper,” Janet Fleisher Gallery, Philadelphia, PA “Passionate Visions of the American South: Self-Taught Artists from 1940 to the Present,” New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, LA “Purvis Young”, Galerie Karsten Greve, Paris, France “Purvis Young: Art and Real Life,” Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne, Germany “Purvis Young Works of Paper (The Books),” Ricco/Maresca Gallery, New York City, NY “Sam Doyle, William Hawkins