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Miami artist captures urban life PDF Print E-mail
Written by DANIELLA AIRD   
Friday, 11 January 2008
Sample ImageCityscapes. Prison bars. Wild horses. Angels.

The recurring themes of Purvis Young’s art reflect life through his eyes.

In 1974, the young artist began painting vibrant scenes on pieces of wood and metal that he nailed to abandoned buildings along Northeast 14th Street in an area called Goodbread Alley, part of Miami’s Overtown.

He had no teacher. He recalls someone telling him to “pick up a brush.’’

His unusual murals eventually grabbed the attention of passersby, and he started selling his paintings for $20 apiece. His work now sells for $250 to $8,000, depending on size.

“I didn’t know the value of art back then,’’ Young said.

His creations now hang in museums around the world, including New York’s Skot Foreman Fine Art Gallery, the New Orleans Museum of Art and the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Now, he is considered one of the world’s most renowned self-taught artists. He is also a member of the Florida Art Hall of Fame. But Young, 64, has never left the city that continues to serve as his muse. One recent afternoon, Young got to work in his new art studio in downtown Miami, just a few blocks north of Goodbread Alley.

“I just watch my environment,’’ Young said of his paintings, which line the walls of his gallery at 225 NW 23rd Street.

Hunched over a glass table, Young sketched wispy strokes on a large white pad, grabbing markers from an empty Ritz crackers box.

His work is currently on display at Dania Beach's 7,000-square-foot Grace Cafe and Galleries, in a show called “The Angels Exhibition,’’ which will run until Feb. 1.

The collection features Young’s abstract angels painted on various canvases, including paper, metal and wood.

Some of the proceeds from the show will benefit the Boys and Girls Clubs of Broward County and also Team of Life, a nonprofit created by Essie “Big Mama’’ Reed, who serves as a mentor to youth in her northwest Fort Lauderdale neighborhood.

Gallery owner Clare Vickery, who has sold Young’s work for the past three years, said she came up with the idea to host an angels show to celebrate the holiday season.

She said Young’s work will help raise money for charities reaching out to urban youth in need of direction, much like he was.

“They are in the trenches and getting out there trying to make a difference on another level,’’ she said of the charities.

Young said his portrayal of angels stems from his need to help mankind.

“I'm trying to sweeten the world up,’’ he said, “Spray it with honey.’’

The show features about 100 pieces Young created during the past three decades.

“The overarching theme of the show is angels and hope,’’ Vickery said.

The show is a fitting tribute to Young, who last year underwent a kidney transplant after receiving dialysis treatments for two years. Since being released from the hospital, Young, a diabetic, has painted 300 new works.

“He has a new footing,’’ Vickery said, “literally a new lease on life.’’

Born in Liberty City in 1943, Young began painting in his early 20s after serving a three-year prison sentence for breaking and entering.

“It was kind of rough,’’ Young said. “I learned how to survive.’’

Art was his escape. His experience in prison later surfaced in his work, with various portrayals of people who have been incarcerated.

One of his paintings is titled, “Lookin’ out from Behind Bars.’’

“I would sit down on the street, sketching,’’ Young said. “No one would bother me.’’

Vickery said the artist’s work drew an immediate following. Locals and tourists alike noticed his paintings nailed to buildings, and Young started profiting from his work.

“He didn't have the money at that time to attend a school where they could take someone with that talent and give him the proper training,’’ she said. “But he had a passion for his art and he went directly to his end-user.’’

As he adorned Miami’s streets with his work, he drew inspiration from the city.

Vickery said Young’s use of angels, wild horses and war scenes portrays his view of a city struggling to rise above turmoil.

“The biggest thing I see in his work is a combination of urban scenes with the integration of wild horses,’’ she said. “That indicates to me he sees the world’s problems on a global scene. It’s a theme of freedom in the city, despite its problems. He paints a lot about suffering and hope.’’

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Photo by Sumner Hutcheson. Purvis Young stands next to one of his original paintings.
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