Purvis Young — the Artist of Overtown

Purvis Young

February 4, 1942 – April 20, 2010
Fort Lauderdale, FL

“I paint what I see, I paint the problems of the world.”

“When I was in my cell one night, I woke up and 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…”

From the gritty streets of Miami’s Overtown inner city section, Purvis Young began to paint his uniquely stylized observations on whatever he could find: old scraps of wood and metal, cardboard, and discarded tabletops.

He served 3 years (1961–64) in prison at North Florida’s Raiford State Penitentiary as a teenager for breaking and entering. While in prison he regained his interest in art and began drawing and studying art books. After his release 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.

His paintings are filled with turbulent cityscapes with angels overhead, wild horses, and Zulu faces. After spending three years in prison for breaking and entering as a teen, Purvis had an epiphany, “When I was in my cell one night, I woke up and 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…” And so they have.

In 2008, Purvis was conned by his former manager.  After a dispute over money, he had declared him mentally incompetent while Purvis was recovering from kidney transplant surgery. (Read the full story here)

His work is in many private collections and in public museums around the world. Young’s work is on display at the House of Blues in Orlando FL, where a 60 ft. installation painted by Purvis on a fence is part of the permanent backdrop adjacent to the restaurant. Purvis Young’s work has been sold at many major auction houses including Christie’s N.Y. His artwork continues to grow in value.

(Photos courtesy of Rare Visions and Roadside Revelations)

Bibliography & Links:

“Detour Art—Outsider, Folk Art, and Visionary Folk Art Environments Coast to Coast, Art and Photographs from the Collection of Kelly Ludwig” by Kelly Ludwig, Kansas City Star Books, 2007.

On DVD – Rare Visions and Roadside Revelations, “Peaches, Beaches, Gators and Grits,” KCPT, Kansas City Public Television, 2005.

“Rare Visions and Roadside Revelations Coast to Coast Travel-o-Pedia” by Randy Mason, et. al., Kansas City Star Books, 2009.

“20th Century American Folk, Self Taught, and Outsider Art” by Betty-Carol Sellen, Cynthia J. Johnson, Neal-Schuman Publishers, New York, 1993.

“American Folk Art, A Regional Reference” by Kristin G. Congdon and Kara Kelley Hallmark, ABC-CLIO Publishers, California, 2012.

“American Self-Taught Art: An Illustrated Analysis of 20th Century Artists and Trends with 1,319 Capsule Biographies” by Florence Laffal and Julius Laffal, 2003.

“Contemporary American Folk Art  – A Collector’s Guide”  Chuck and Jan Rosenak, Abbeville Press, 1996.

“Contemporary Folk Art: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum” by Tom Patterson, Watson-Guptill Publications/New York, 2001.

“Extraordinary Interpretations: Florida’s Self-taught Artists” by Gary Monroe, 2003

“Flying Free: Twentieth-Century Self-Taught Art from the Collection of Ellin and Baron Gordon” by Ellin Gordon, Barbara L. Luck and Tom Patterson, exhibit catalog for The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center, 1997.

“Let it Shine: Self-Taught Art from the T. Marshall Hahn Collection”  by Lynne E. Spriggs, Joanne Cubbs, Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, Susan Mitchell Crawley, Michael E. Shapiro and Peter Harholdt, organized by the High Museum of Art, 2001.

“Self Taught, Outsider, and Folk Art—A guide to American Artists, Locations and Resources” by Betty-Carol Sellen with Cynthia J. Johnson, McFarland & Company, 2000.

“Souls Grown Deep: African American Vernacular Art of the South”, Vol 2, Arnett, et al, 2001.

“Testimony: Vernacular Art of the African-American South: the Ronald and June Shelp Collection”, Cronwill, Danto, Gaither, Gundaker and McWillie, 2001.

Purvis Young website

Raw Vision Magazine

Creative Heart Gallery: “Purvis Young”

Outsider Folk Art

Sun Sentenial

Broward New Times

Biscayne Times