Purvis Young (1943-2010)

Purvis Young (1943-2010). Protesters, c.1980s. Mixed media on wood panel, 45.25 x 26.5 inches. Width measures 27.5 inches with extra wood at top. Signed upper right, partially hidden by subsequent frame application as is artist’s method. Please contact us for images of similarly signed examples from the Rubell Collection, Miami FL.



The work of the urban black vernacular artist, Purvis Young, has roots in the dreamy fields of high art subject matter-evoking Picasso in its riders, its elegant horses, its nudes. At the same time it is filled with the energy and syncretism of the world’s vanguard-American urban Black culture. It is to “outsider art” what be bop is to the blues. The subject matter rides on a thick layer of color, attention, choice, free-swinging composition that refers to a thousand years of composition before it.

Young lives and works in Overtown, a neighborhood in Miami cut off by the highway overpasses that loom over it. He is “of the community, but is also, now, of the larger art world as well.” He has researched art history avidly and has seen what other artists have done, spending years in the libraries that have supported his work. He has chosen his imagery out of Overtown and his own life, and out of the resonances of the past as well.

Young’s choices of materials-the discarded boards he uses to paint on and to “frame” works; the fragments of text, the use of books to mount the works-are not made by happenstance, though early on they may have been the fruit of necessity. Now these are elements of meaning. Now they insist on the presence of the street, full of stuff, humanity, words, scraps, full of the exchanges that create the most exciting cultural milieu in the world, creative, tragic, excessive, beautiful, wasteful.