Purvis Young spent most of his life free: riding his bike up and down Overtown streets, coming and going as he pleased, and staying up all night to paint. When the prolific mixed-media artist died last week, he was confined to a nursing home, under the care of guardians appointed by the state after former manager and bona fide scammer Martin Siskind had Young declared mentally incompetent. What's more, with Young's passing came a tangle of anger and confusion: Who was really his friend? Why did Young allegedly die bankrupt? Who was paying for his funeral? What were the guardians doing all this time?
Some of these questions are productive, and some of them aren't. Anyone who cared about Young at any point in his life and supported him without an ulterior motive was a friend. Young's longtime manager, Leon Rolles, was a friend: When reached for comment yesterday, Rolles said he was still in mourning, to try back next week.
Martin Siskind was certainly no friend to Young. He kept Young on a strict allowance, and even after Young sued Siskind for
mismanagement, Siskind violated court orders to stay away from the artist. Young's personal attorney, Robert McKinney, believes Siskind stole more than his share of art and "hundreds of thousands of money from Purvis' art." Larry Clemons, who says Young's guardians shut him out of Young's last year of life, recalls Siskind telling him, "I control this n*****, and he won't be able to take a shit without me." Young would complain to Clemons that the guardian of his property, Miami lawyer David Mangiero, was pressuring him to work with Siskind again. Phone calls to Mangiero for comment have gone unanswered.
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Indeed, several friends believe that mismanagement by Young's guardians slashed his bank account -- and his health, too. Unpaid bills for Young's studio came to McKinney's attention. While Clemons has pointed the finger at Mangiero for preventing Young from selling art to make a living, and McKinney doesn't entirely refute that, there may have been other factors at play. McKinney had heard that "folks didn't want to buy Purvis' art because of the situation with Martin and the lawsuit going on." Plus, Young's art was going for cheap, relatively. He painted a lot, and so it wasn't hard to get a piece of the Overtown prodigy.
As for the funeral, the Richardson Mortuary Funeral Home confirmed Tuesday that the primary organizers and donaters had been Rolles and McKinney. The home had $1,400 for Young and hoped for $3,700 more. The Alonzo Mourning Foundation was expected to donate a chunk of that cash.
McKinney can't answer why hundreds of Young's paintings sat unsold, or what they could have provided for Young. "David Mangiero knows to the penny," he says of Young's accounts.
"[Purvis] wasn't happy with his situation. Here was a man who's been a free spirit all his life, comes when he wants, goes when he wants," McKinney says. "He lost control of his life, basically."