Nothing But an Artist

Purvis Young still gets his inspiration from the turbulence of Miami streets.

The show features more than a hundred works by Purvis, most of them from the 1980s and '90s, and one huge wall is devoted to an astonishing Goodbread Alley-like assemblage consisting of dozens of paintings. The exhibition was curated by art dealer Skot Foreman, who negotiated loans from more than 40 private collections and other sources. Foreman, who hails from South Florida and once had a gallery in Dania Beach, has long been a champion of Purvis; he loaned three paintings from his own collection, and the catalog includes his brief, heartfelt appreciation of the artist, which he opens by declaring, "Even today, there is something about a great Purvis Young painting that gets me in the gut."

Purvis is not without his critics, of course. Art dealers have complained that he's way too prolific, driving down the value of his work. Purvis' response is a shrug: "But it don't bother me." Even more pointedly, he says, in a statement posted at the beginning of the exhibition and included in the catalog, "Those people who say I paint too much don't say that birds fly too much, Shakespeare wrote too much, or opera singers sing too much."

Almost inevitably for an artist so productive — even Picasso cranked out lots of mediocre work — Purvis' output is variable. Harper's essay accurately pegs his overall style as "more or less naïve, expressionistic symbolism" and emphasizes his "development over time (not usually a characteristic of folk or outsider art)." Foreman has highlighted this development by loosely organizing the show chronologically. Even so, I much prefer Purvis' work from the 1960s and '70s that, despite its general flatness, seems to convey an emotional charge more directly. As powerful a work as Tent City Violence (c. 1986) is, it can't match the visceral violence of Riots of the MLK Assassination (1969), the exhibition's earliest piece.

Ghost Horses and (following image) Angels Over the City: Who's to say that Young paints too much? "People don't say birds fly too much," he says.
Ghost Horses and (following image) Angels Over the City: Who's to say that Young paints too much? "People don't say birds fly too much," he says.


"Paintings From the Street" is on view through November 26 at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, 501 Plaza Real, Mizner Park, Boca Raton, 561-392-2500. Purvis of Overtown plays at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival on Saturday, November 4, at 7:15 p.m. at Parker Playhouse, 707 NE Eighth St., Fort Lauderdale.

What both exhibition and film clarify so fully is that Purvis appears to remain relatively unaffected by his success. His paintings can be found in private and major museum collections nationwide, and they now command prices into five figures instead of a few dollars. The artist himself, however, continues to live in Overtown and continues to tool around on his bicycle to soak up inspiration from the streets — a charmed if strange life.

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