Thursday, January 8, 2009
Purvis Young - Art & Opinion Magazine
Arts and Opinion
Vol. 6, No. 3, 2007
[Purvis of Overtown is the name of the DVD that introduced me to a most remarkable artist -- Purvis Young. His art is not only vibrant, lively, and colourful, it’s also very difficult to categorize. I invite our readers to visit Purvis’s paintings on the internet at www.purvis-young.com as did I did; it will be a treat. The following article is by Dindy Yokel, a Florida art collector/agent and friend of Purvis Young. I thank her for taking the time to answer my questions about Purvis, his creativite life, the sort of life he leads and who collects his remarkable creations. Ed. Lydia Schrufer]
The Art of
In the world through which I travel, I am endlessly creating myself.
Dressed in a paint-splattered Hawaiian shirt, Purvis Young is relaxing in an Adirondack chair at his studio in Ft. Lauderdale just 28.5 miles north of his studio in his town of Miami -- a place he longs to return to once his law suit with former business associate, Martin Siskind, is settled. The brilliant sunshine is no match for the smile on Young’s face. He is five months past his kidney transplant, feeling fit and looking far younger than his 64 years. He’s painting and there’s lightness in his voice, his touch and his being that hasn’t been there in decades.
The Rubell’s have recently donated 90+ pieces of Young’s work to the Tampa Museum of Art where they’ll be on exhibit until July 22, 2007. Other retrospectives are in the works as are major books chronicling Young’s career. Purvis of Overtown, released in 2006, is a superb documentary that has already garnered several well-deserved film festival awards.
Young is thankful for what he views as a second chance to do right by his father and the world around him. He is tired of listening to others and painting what they want – it’s his time to paint what he wants, how he wants. “I can't solve the world's problems. I paint the world's problems,” says Young.
In considering Young’s work, William Arnett, an expert in African American vernacular art and co-editor of Souls Grown Deep, Volume’s I and II (along with son Paul Arnett) says, “Almost every day, Young searches the streets of Overtown for materials to incorporate into his artwork.
Young’s paintings are more than paintings. They are assemblages made from an array of urban detritus carefully selected by the artist according to his sense of their aesthetic and philosophical compatibility. His haul may include plywood, broken furniture, mirrors, window shades, carpet scraps, splintered wood, metal trays, record albums, wallpaper samples, glass and paper correspondence, manila folders, bank statements, bills, memos -- thrown away by small manufacturing plants and offices still remaining on the fringes of the community. The materials are chosen for more than texture, colour, and form: Young considers each object’s original use, and in his final creation -- gathered, selected, arranged, nailed or glued together, painted, and framed -- each component carries its own subtle and highly esoteric definition.”
Environmentally conscious and unwilling to contribute to further deforestation, Young's canvases are made of recycled products including found wood, discarded library books, old political posters, used furniture and various surplus items from construction sites. Young's paint includes latex, acrylic, enamel and combinations of new paint blended with the old that he has had for over 25 years.
For decades people -- including Robert Man and ‘Papa’ -- have brought Young what many would consider trash; however the items are carefully culled according to the artist's specific needs. Even though he has plenty of raw materials stored up, he does not turn anyone away for in most cases they have walked many miles with these heavy items in tow; and in the case of Man and ‘Papa,’ they have been providing Young with the materials for 40+ years.
There are many who say that Young is too prolific, but in his own words, "people don't say that birds fly too much, that Shakespeare wrote too much or that opera singers sing too much. But, it don't bother me that they say I paint too much, I just paint what I see and feel."
Dr. Bernard Davis (deceased in 1973), owner of the Miami Museum of Modern Art, was among the first to collect Young's work and sponsored his very first exhibition. Davis discovered the artist in Goodbread Alley and became his champion, ensuring that he was well-stocked with painting supplies.
Out of necessity, Young has developed a complex painterly langauge in order to express what he sees and experiences in the world around him in all its unpretentious stark reality. His symbols convey the on-going economic and cultural divides so prevalent in Miami and beyond, through recurring images of black and white horses, pregnant women, highways and overpasses, convoys of trucks and trains, railroad tracks, airplanes, angels and Zulu warriors (whom he considers his tribe).
"My feeling was that the world might get better if I put up my protests (in the form of paintings)," said Young, in Bill Arnett's Souls Grown Deep: African American Vernacular Art. "Even if it didn't, it was something I had to be doing. I make like I'm a warrior, like God sending an angel to stop war, like in my art."
In 2005, after 14 years of blindness in the left eye, surgery performed by Dr. Carol L. Karp at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute has restored Young's sight. Young also had a pacemaker installed in 2006. Despite his varied illnesses, Young painted and studied the world’s history without stopping, so consumed with his art that he rarely saw the light of day.
* * * * *
Born on February 2, 1943 in Miami's Liberty City to Vera Mae Wright, Young learned the art of drawing as a little boy watching his maternal Uncle Irving, a figurative artist. This corrects the previously held belief that Young is an outsider or self-taught artist. His brother David, who passed away 10 years ago, was a cartoonist and painter: clearly art is an integral part of the family heritage.
Young attended school up to the 8th grade during which time he swam at Dixie Park (now called Gibson Park) and he was invited to paint a mural on the Overtown Library, adjacent to the pool. With the guidance of two of Miami-Dade Public Library System's finest, Barbara Young (Librarian Curator of the Permanent Collection, Art Services and Exhibitions Programs) and Margarita Cano (Administrator of Community Relations), Young buried himself amongst the books, hungry for knowledge that could explain the world to him.
Young, who prefers to be known solely as a painter, has recently been called an Urban Expressionist painter, a category much better suited to his body of work. When thinking of an outsider artist, the term generally reflects one who is naïve, isolated and disassociated from contemporary life; none of these terms is applicable to Young. The artist has spent countless hours studying the masters, especially Rubens, Van Gogh and Delacroix. He is passionate about the History Channel, Public Television, National Geographic Magazine and CNN. He devours news and history as a marathon runner gulps water – it is necessary to his life and his work. "I was put on this earth to paint, not to live," says Young.
For the first 50 years of his life, Young remained within the county lines of Miami. It was not until his 6th decade that he travelled to other states and cities and learned that he was famous, a fact he missed while art dealers encouraged him to seclude himself in his studio.
"I always made my own money, didn't want anyone else to pay for anything. I worked to support my habit and my habit is painting," explains Young. "There was an old man who owned The Palate in Wynwood, a shop that sold artists’ materials. He was always very nice to me and I have never forgotten this."
Young's common law wife has four daughters whom he has called his own since they were little. Of the seven grandchildren, two have already showed an interest in art.
Today, Young's work is in more than 60 public collections and numerous private ones; in 2006 alone he had six exhibitions. His work hangs in The Bass Museum of Art (Miami); American Folk Art Museum (New York); The Corcoran Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.); High Museum of Art (Atlanta): Lowe Art Museum (University of Miami); Museum of Fine Arts (Houston); New Orleans Museum of Art; Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Smithsonian American Art Museum among many others. On December 24, 2006, the Sun-Sentinel’s Emma Trelles named the Boca Raton Museum of Art's Purvis Young exhibition #1 in the art category for the year in South Florida
The Purvis Young Studio is located at 255 NW 23rd Street, Miami, Florida and is open by appointment by calling (786) 285-0034.
All images © Purvis Young