PURVIS YOUNG (1943 - 2010)

“Every day, I prays to be great.”


"Street Celebration"

This piece is acrylic paint on an assemblage starting with a salvaged foamcore panel over which Young has attached a canvas-like textile. After painting the dancers, he attached pieces of wood to make a frame and painted on those. A nice example of his process and the colorful content is a multicultural street dance.

24" x 22" x 2" inches deep         SOLD








"Thelonious Monk"

Acrylic paint on assemblage. Beginning with salvaged panelling, Young attached a textured canvas-like textile. After painting the image he attached carpet remnants as a frame, paying hommage to one of the people he so admired.

22" X 47"         SOLD



"Freedom Horses"

Another recurring theme in the artists work, horses represented freedom and the beauty of the natural world.

Acrylic paint on salvaged panelling.

22" x 30"          $650


"Angel Weeping"

Recurring image in Young's work, he said angels come down to help us and sometimes get into trouble themselves.

Acrylic paint on salvaged shelf panel with the metal guide attached.

11" X 20 "          SOLD




Acrylic paint on formica panelling    20" x 48"    $2900.

Click the images for larger version. The gloss black enamel paint he used for the helmets and weapons won't show up in these photos.

Detail of "Soldiers"


Purvis Young was a complicated and sincere man who painted obsessively in the abandoned, rat infested warehouses in Overtown, Miami FL. He used this location, known as "Blood Alley" as his studios all his life. Young was an internationally celebrated artist in a great many museums including the Smithsonian, the Corcoran, and important private collections such as the Rubells, yet he did not leave his home place.

In 1943 Young was born into a rapidly changing urban landscape. His once prosperous and healthy neighborhood has descended into chaos and crime. When the new I95 cut off Overtown it became increasingly populated by those who were cut off from the mainstream. In his late teens he was convicted of a felony — it has been variously reported as breaking and entering and armed robbery — and spent between two and three years in a Florida prison, where he began drawing again and perusing art books.

“I didn’t have nothing going for myself,” he said. “That’s the onliest thing I could mostly do. I was just looking through art books, looking at guys painting their feelings.”

  “When I was in my cell one night,” says Young, “I woke up and the angels came to me and I told ‘em, you know, hey man this is not my life……. and they said they were gonna make a way for me, you know…”

“Soon after his release from prison, Young saw a book on contemporary murals, including Southside Chicago’s famous Wall of Respect, a the collaborative outdoor painting that portrayed prominent African-American political leaders and cultural heroes. Inspired, he produced a makeshift mural of his own during the early 1970s – Goodbread Alley, composed of several hundred panels nailed to dilapidated buildings in Overtown. It was the first work to bring him to the public’s attention. Since then, of course, he has been exhibiting tirelessly, holding exhibitions in galleries, museums and libraries around the country and gaining recognition as an important artist.”  Raw Vision

Mr. Young, who never attended high school, was often called an outsider artist or a street artist, but he was influenced by a many greta artists including Rembrandt, El Greco, van Gogh and Delacroix — whose works he pored over in art books in the public library.

The public library system has been a constant resource for Young. “… he’s educated himself,” states Barbara Young, Miami Art Reference Librarian. In the Overtown Library - which he would one day adorn with his own murals. Purvis’ early drawings gradually reveal a growing mastery. Old books that the library was discarding became his sketch pads.

One of the characteristics he shares with many outsider artists, Young’s creative output is prodigious.  Two years after the Rubells family bought the entire contents of his studio, the space had 4 new rows that ran the length of the huge warehouse piled 8 feet tall with paintings, and innumerable boxes of smaller works.

Urban expressionism by any other name, including "outsider", still resounds with articulated emotion.

 “In spite of the similarities between Young and some mainstream artists, to pretend that there are not certain irreducible differences between them would obfuscate the reasons why Young is so often categorized with outsider artists. First of all, Young is self-taught. He began drawing and painting in prison while serving out a sentence for armed robbery in the late 1960s. Second, although Young has spent endless hours looking through art history books, he is oblivious to and uninterested in the shifts and trends that have dominated art discourse in the last forty years. Unlike artists who engage in intricately conceptual practices, Young works in a much more intuitive fashion, churning out paintings while remaining unconcerned in any strict way with formal questions or conceptual speculations. There is a poignant simplicity to his work that, while never just simple, disassociates him from academically trained artists. He’s rooted too deep in the immediate realities of his community to bother with the concerns that engage artists working in ways that are loosely tied to any one place or way of life. That he is unaware and uninterested in contemporary art world discourse is intimately tied with the fact that he rarely leaves his neighborhood and is concerned mostly with the life that takes place in it.” Raw Vision

“I paint what I sees…I paint the problems of the world,” says Young.

The darker side of everyday life registers in the work through these discarded materials. The weathered support becomes a metaphor for the deplorable and frustrating material realities that disenfranchisement fosters. There is celebration here, but it is taking place amid decay. This party may have something to do with hope, but may as well have to do with momentary escape, something that on another occasion may be channeled through violence rather than dance.  Joy, rapture, release, and escape are all terms that become important, even if their value is always on the verge of becoming equivocal.” Raw Vision Review

The dialogue between the sophisticated content and the trashed materials illustrate the dichotomy of Young’s creativity:  An outsider urban expressionist, he is a category unto himself. Young is no less an empathetically gifted contemporary artist than the obsessed and compulsive outsider artist of Overtown.

“People know he’s the real thing,” says Miami collector Cristina Santeiro.   

“He can’t stop painting,” his friend Brance Joldas says. “He needs to paint 10 hours, 15 hours a day, whatever it takes. And he’s been doing that for forty years.”

“I want people to know that I wish there would be peace in the world, and I will paint the way I paint until there is, and then one day maybe I could just hang up my brush and not paint no more.”

Mr. Young died in April 2010.

From his obituary in the New York Times:

"The cause was cardiac arrest and pulmonary edema, said Dindy Yokel, a friend. Mr. Young was a diabetic and had several health problems in recent years, including a kidney transplant in 2007."

NYTimes Obit



Smithsonian Contemporary Folk Art

Raw Vision

Intuit Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art

American Visionary Art Museum


A Partial List of Museums: Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC Museum of American Folk Art, New York, NY New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, LA Corcoran Museum of Art, Washington, DC Newark Museum, Newark, NJ Bass Museum of Art, Miami Beach, FL Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, AL Boca Raton Museum, FL Philadelphia Museum, PA High Museum, Atlanta Tampa Museum, FL Studio Museum, Harlem, NY

Selected Exhibitions: Purvis Young, Galerie Karsten Greves, Paris, France An American Anthology, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA Bearing Witness, Schomberg Museum, New York, NY Souls Grown Deep, Emory University Museum, Atlanta, GA Purvis Young, Miami Museum of Modern Art, Miami, FL Smithsonian Collection, Tampa Museum of Art, Tampa, FL Painting The Blues, Springfield Museum of Art, Springfield, OH Pictured In My Mind, Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, Purvis Young: Paintings, Ricco/Maresca Gallery, New York, NY Purvis Young, Eileen West Gallery, Seaside, FL, “Raw Treasure”, Joy Moos Gallery, Miami, FL

Selected Publications: “Souls Grown Deep”, Tinwood Books “Report From Miami: Part II”, Art In America “An American Anthology”, Museum of American Folk Art “Miami: Purvis Young”, ARTnews “Going Urban”, American Art Magazine “Pictured In My Mind”, Seaside Times “Purvis Young”, Birmingham Museum of Art “The Scene Heats Up Under the Miami Sun”, NY Times





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