"Capsize (Davy Jones Locker)," late 1990's/early 2000's; house paint on wood.
Miami Art Museum (MAM) has recently opened a new exhibition in the Focus Gallery section of its Permanent Collection installation dedicated to works by the late Purvis Young. The paintings of the celebrated, self-taught Miami artist who passed away in April of this year at the age of 67 will be on view through November 7.
According to MAM, 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.
“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. I have a large Purvis, which is titled “Night Celebration,” and it is one of my favorites. See another artist who began his storied career painting on reclaimed construction waste (it may be a surprise) on my blog, Roaming By Design.
[The painting shown is in the MAM collection, a gift from Dr. Shulamit and Chaim Katzman.]