Purvis Young, who began his career sketching messages on the sides of inner-city buildings, and rose to become an internationally acclaimed artist, died Tuesday, April 20 at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami after suffering a heart attack. He was 67.
Services will take place at 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 24 at Historic Mt. Zion Baptist Church, 301 NW 9th Street in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood.
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 in a 2008 interview with the South Florida Times. “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 in the interview. “No one would bother me.’’
As he adorned Miami’s streets with his work, he drew inspiration from the city.
In 1974, he 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, a part of Overtown.
He had no teacher. In the 2008 Times interview, he recalled 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. Later in his life, his work sold for $250 to $8,000, depending on size. Experts say the value of his work will increase.
His creations have hung 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.
He was 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 never left the city that continued to serve as his muse.
He frequently portrayed angels in his work. He told a reporter in 2008 that his angelic focus stems from his need to help mankind.
“I'm trying to sweeten the world up,’’ he said, “Spray it with honey.’’
Derek Davis is curator of the Old Dillard Museum in Fort Lauderdale, where some of Young’s work has been on display.
Davis recalled that, as a teenager growing up in Miami, he frequently saw Young’s inspirational messages on bus benches and pieces of driftwood.
“You might find them on anything, just a side of a building, anywhere,” Davis said.
He also recalled Young’s penchant for painting abstract angels, horses and enlarged human heads, signs of the human struggle to succeed, as well as the intrinsic goodness and potential for greatness in people.
“Purvis was very capable of doing very realistic art,” Davis said. “But he chose to use a more symbolic form to get his messages across.”