Larry Clemons almost threw up this morning when he read in the paper that Purvis Young, who died yesterday at 67 of cardiac arrest, passed away penniless. "That's absolutely disgusting. When I was there for Purvis, he had money," says Clemons, a longtime friend and publisher of the artist as well as owner of the Purvis Young Museum in Fort Lauderdale. In a story this morning, the Sun-Sentinel claimed "litigation" bankrupted the internationally recognized painter -- but according to Clemons, the truth is a lot more disturbing.
The problem began when Young filed a lawsuit in 2007 against Martin Siskind, his then-manager and New Times-certified scammer, to produce accounting records of Young's profits. At the time, Siskind kept Young on a $500-per-week allowance and never produced documentation of Young's earnings. But just days after filing the court papers, Young got a call from the hospital: A diabetic, Young had been waiting on a kidney transplant -- and it was time.
"While under the knife, Siskind goes to the judge and says, 'This man is incapacitated -- he thinks people are trying to take his work!'" Clemons says. "Well," Clemons claims, "he
was stealing his art." Just after Young was released from the hospital, "when he was discombobulated and taking 40 pills a day," Young submitted to a competency test from a team of psychiatrists." Despite being heralded as an art genius, Young was declared unfit.
"[The psychiatrists] asked him what his girlfriend's address was," Clemons says. "Look. Purvis had been riding around Overtown on his bike for 15 years. He knows every crack in the pavement, every grass growing up through the sidewalk. He doesn't think of an address he's been riding up to for 15 years."
The state assigned him two guardians: one to take care of his personal health, another to look after his business. The latter was respected Miami attorney David Mangiero. In 2008, Young told Biscayne Times, "The guardians listened to [Siskind] more than they listened to me... It's like [Mangiero] wasn't even concerned about me. All he talked about was [Siskind]."
Clemons says that Siskind himself told Clemons that he was pulling the strings of the guardians. "Martin Siskind told me -- he told me within the first six months. He said, 'I control this n*****, and he won't be able to take a shit without me." Young told Clemons that his guardians were trying to talk him into working with Siskind again. A phone call to Mangiero was not returned by presstime.
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Meanwhile, Young had hundreds of paintings in his studio. "Why is he broke?" Clemons asks. "There are masterpieces sitting in that studio." Whenever Clemons came to Young with exhibits or shows, the guardians shot them down. Instead, they were charging Young hundreds of dollars per hour for their services, says Clemons.
Johnetta Shearer had been friends with Young for 15 years after seeing his work and tracking him down in his Miami warehouse. "Purvis was a free spirit and disliked being in the care of a ward," says Shearer, who notes that the last time she saw Young, at this year's Art Basel festival, he seemed "despondent."
"He seemed to not ever have enough money to do what he needed to do. I know that [his guardians] charged him exorbitant amounts of hourly fees for things like phone calls, and he didn't have a way to make money except for selling his paintings, and they barred that to a certain extent. They didn't take care of him at all."
Shearer had no idea as to why Young's guardians did not promote or sell his artwork: "It's the strangest thing I've ever seen... I just feel that there was a conspiracy against him for whatever reason, and it certainly was his demise."
Says Clemons: "I've got the money together for his funeral. But that he doesn't have a trust set up, wasn't selling art when he had a studio, the fact that there isn't money for him -- it has me very concerned how the state and these guardians can justify $250 an hour. If you take a look at the day they were appointed, he never did an art show, and he's penniless. In my opinion, they killed him."