Trending Artist: Purvis Young (1943-2010)

Purvis_Young by DR
This is an image of Purvis Young taken by David Raccuglia.
This post will be the first in an ongoing series highlighting different artists that we come across in our appraisal work.

Purvis Young was a local artist, having lived and worked his whole career in Overtown. His work is provocative and emotive, showcasing the daily struggle he witnessed as part of the Overtown community. His work is often categorized as “Outsider Art”, defined as art created outside the boundaries of official culture. Having been introduced to art by his uncle at a young age but showing no interest at the time, Purvis Young began painting during his late teens while serving a three-year prison sentence for breaking and entering in the early 1960s, where he was encouraged to develop his talents.

Following his release from prison, Young began educating himself, reading every art history book available to him through his local public library. He became interested in social issues, watching documentaries about Civil Rights and the Great Depression, among others and drew inspiration from nature and history. Undeterred by his inability to find art materials, he used discarded library books as sketch books, filling pages with sketches that would develop into his signature “magic realism” style.

This time period coincided with a turning point for Young’s home. Once a flourishing African-American neighborhood, Overtown was transformed into an impoverished ghetto after the construction of I-95 in the 1960s and 1970s. The artist became a witness to these rapid and glaring changes, documenting social injustice and the persistence of his neighbors in the midst of brutal conditions. The resulting oeuvre is an artistic documentary of his environment, capturing the people and scenes of his immediate surroundings and painting on any surface he could find, including discarded plywood and cardboard, refrigerator doors, table tops, scraps of fabric and metal trays. Young’s subjects include wild horses, marching people, railroad tracks, pregnant women and angel heads. During his lifetime, the artist explained his figures, saying they were representative of various life experiences and symbolized hope. It is no surprise that his work has been so popular with collectors, a trend that is becoming more and more apparent, especially here in Miami where his work was made and is still sold today. Of his own work, Purvis Young has been quoted as saying “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.”

Buffalo Soldiers, c. 1993 Paint on wood paneling 13 x 21

Purvis Young’s work became highly desirable during the early 2000s and continues to be collected today. In 1999, the Rubell family, notable art collectors, purchased the entire content of Young’s studio, a total of almost 3,000 pieces, later donating 108 works to Morehouse College in 2008. In 2006, a feature documentary titled “Purvis of Overtown” was produced about his life and work. The same year, he had a major retrospective exhibition at the Boca Raton Museum in Florida.

Purvis Young passed away in 2010, due to a long standing battle with diabetes. His legacy lives on in his work, which can be found in museum and private collections throughout the United States. The Miami Art Museum opened an exhibit later the same year. The exhibit focused on his role as a witness to the history of Miami and Overtown during the 1960s and 70s.

His work continues to sell prolifically in galleries in New York, Miami, and Philadelphia. Collectors are drawn to the raw quality of his painting as well as the unconventional materials used and the important social message they carry. In our work, particularly, we have been seeing an increase in the amount of Purvis Young in private collections. Our company can help in the process of purchasing Purvis Young as well as appraising pieces in current collections for insurance or sales purposes. If you have owned a Purvis Young for a long time, particularly, a re-appraisal may be in order as the value of the piece has likely risen significantly.

Notable Museum Collections:

  • American Folk Art Museum
  • The Corcoran Gallery of Art
  • The High Museum of Art
  • The National Museum of African American History and Culture
  • The Philadelphia Museum of Art, among others

Call our offices at (305) 446-1820 for advise on purchasing or appraising Purvis Young art or for any of your appraisal needs.

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