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Artist Purvis Young Dead at the Age of 67

MIAMI, FL.- Artist Purvis Young was pronounced dead at the age of 67 at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami on April 20, 2010. The cause of death will be released following autopsy. The funeral will be held on Saturday, April 24, 2010 at 3:30 p.m. at Mt. Zion Baptist Church (310 NW 9th Street, Miami).

Mr. Young is survived by his long time companion, Eddie Mae Lovest, four daughters, Kenyatta, Kentranice, Taketha and Elisha, and 13 grandchildren. In addition, he is survived by two sisters, Betty Rodriguez and Shirley Byrd, and a brother, Irvin Byrd.

“To know Purvis was to love him, he will be missed but his spirit will always be a part of us,” said Leon and Sharon Rolle. “We are saddened that we won't be able to see what Purvis comes up with next, it's only for he and his angels to share his imaginative work,” continued the Rolles. (Mr. Rolle was Young’s business manager until his passing).

There are many who say that Young was too prolific but in his own words, "people don't say that birds fly too much, that Shakespeare wrote too much or that opera singers sing too much. But, it don't bother me that they say I paint too much, I just paint what I see and feel," said Young.

Dr. Bernard Davis (deceased in 1973), owner of the Miami Museum of Modern Art, was among the first to collect Young's work and gave him his very first exhibition. Davis discovered the artist in Goodbread Alley and became his champion, ensuring that he was well stocked with painting supplies.

Environmentally conscious and unwilling to contribute to further deforestation, Young's "canvases" were made of recycled products including found wood, discarded library books, old political posters, used furniture and various surplus items from construction sites. Young's painted with latex, acrylic, enamel, and combinations of new paint blended with old paint that he had for 25 years or more.

For decades people -- including Robert Man and "Papa" -- had brought Young what many would consider trash; however the items were carefully culled according to Young's specific needs. Even though he had plenty of raw materials stored up he did not turn anyone away as in most cases they had walked many miles with these heavy items in tow and in the case of Man and "Papa" they had provided Young with the materials for more than 40 years.

His complex language expressed what he saw and experienced in the world around him in all its unpretentious stark reality. Young often said, “I can't solve the world's problems. I paint the world's problems.”

Young's symbols convey the on-going economic and cultural divides so prevalent in Miami and beyond through recurring images of black and white horses, pregnant women, highways and overpasses, convoys of trucks and trains, railroad tracks, airplanes, angels and Zulu warriors (whom he considered his tribe).

"My feeling was that the world might get better if I put up my protests [in the form of paintings]," said Young in Bill Arnett's outstanding book, "Souls Grown Deep: African American Vernacular Art of the South" (co-edited with Paul Arnett). "Even if it didn't, it was something I had to be doing. I make like I'm a warrior, like God sending an angel to stop war, like in my art," further stated Young in Arnett's book.

In 2005, after 14 years of blindness in the left eye, surgery performed by Dr. Carol L. Karp at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute has restored Young's sight. Young also had a pacemaker installed in 2006 and received a kidney transplant in January of 2007.

Born on February 2, 1943 in Miami's Liberty City to Vera Mae Wright, Young learned the art of drawing as a little boy watching his maternal Uncle Irving who was a figurative artist. This contradicts the previously held belief that Young was an outsider or self-taught artist. He first picked up his first paintbrush at the age of 20. Young's brother David (now deceased) was a cartoonist and painter – clearly art is an integral part of the family heritage.

Young, who preferred to be known solely as a painter, was most recently dubbed an Urban Expressionist painter, a category much better suited to his body of work. When thinking of an outsider artist the term generally reflects one who is naïve, isolated and disassociated from contemporary life – none of these terms were applicable to Young. The artist had spent countless hours studying the masters who appeal to him including Rubens, Van Gogh, and Delacroix. He was passionate about the History Channel, Public Television, National Geographic Magazine, and CNN. He devoured news and history as a marathon runner gulps water – it was necessary to his life and his work. "I was put on this earth to paint, not to live," said Young.

Young attended school up to the 8th grade during which time he swam at Dixie Park (now called Gibson Park) and he was invited to paint a mural on the Overtown Library, adjacent to the pool. With the guidance of two of Miami-Dade Public Library System's finest, Barbara Young (Librarian Curator of the Permanent Collection, Art Services and Exhibitions Programs) and Margarita Cano (Administrator of Community Relations), Young buried himself amongst the books, hungry for knowledge that could explain the world to him.

For the first 50 years of his life, Young remained within the county lines of Miami. It was not until his 6th decade that he traveled to other states and cities and learned that he was famous, a fact he missed while art dealers encouraged him to seclude himself in his studio.

"I always made my own money, didn't want anyone else to pay for anything. I worked to support my habit and my habit is painting," said Purvis Young. "There was an old man who owned The Palate in Wynwood, a shop that sold artists materials. He was always very nice to me and I have never forgotten this," continued Young.

Today, Young's work is in more than 60 public collections and numerous private ones; in 2006 alone he had six exhibitions. His work hangs in The Bass Museum of Art (Miami); American Folk Art Museum (New York); The Corcoran Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.); High Museum of Art (Atlanta): Lowe Art Museum (University of Miami); Museum of Fine Arts (Houston); New Orleans Museum of Art; Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Smithsonian American Art Museum among many. On December 24, 2006, the Sun-Sentinel’s Emma Trelles named the Boca Raton Museum of Art's Purvis Young exhibition #1 in the art category for the year in South Florida.

In lieu of flowers donations may be made to Transplant House at Jackson Memorial Hospital or to Richardson Mortuary located at 4500 NW 17th Avenue, Miami, Florida 33142 to assist in the funeral costs.

Miami | Purvis Young | Dr. Bernard Davis |

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