Thursday, April 22, 2010

Purvis Young Dies at 67 on April 20, 2010

Street artist Purvis Young's career trajectory saw him rise from obscurity to international fame, then back to obscurity upon his death Tuesday at age 67.

While Young may have died a pauper at Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital, the vast number of his works are sure to increase in value, art experts said.

"There's no doubt that a Purvis Young painting today is certainly going to be worth more in value tomorrow," said Manhattan gallery owner Skot Foreman, who had known Young for 20 years and exhibited his work. "Some prices could double, some prices could triple."

Young's rare, original works could fetch up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, Foreman said.

After suffering a number of ailments in recent years, Young died of cardiac arrest about 5 a.m. Tuesday. "It is a sad day," Foreman said.

Young was born and raised in Miami's Overtown section and began painting after serving a three-year prison sentence for burglary. While still in his early 20s, the untrained artist created bright paintings on wood and metal, which he would nail to buildings in his neighborhood.

"I saw the pieces that he had around the community," said Derek Davis, who later became curator of the Old Dillard Museum in Fort Lauderdale. "You would see Purvis going around painting on anything from bus benches to pieces of driftwood."

Now, Young's paintings grace museums across the globe, including New York, New Orleans and Washington, D.C.

But the scars of hard times never left Young. "He was always a very eccentric type of person," Davis said. "He was very much a recluse."

Working from an Overtown studio, Young produced multimedia creations of vibrant color in a style resembling fingerpainting. His themes: urban landscapes, wild horses, angels.

"Purvis Young was a school of one. Scholars have coined the term Urban Expressionist or Social Expressionist, and they were thinking of him," Foreman said.

"Purvis is the urban storyteller," said Suzanne Khalil, curator of EXOR Galleries in Boca Raton, which last year hosted an exhibit of his most artistic period, from the 1980s and '90s. "There is something very raw about the way he works."

Young was an activist in his art.

"Purvis was very passionate about social issues and racial issues," Foreman said. "He was very outspoken in his view on politics and bureaucracy."

Young's art was meant to inspire as well as tell a tale.

"There was always some message in his work," Davis said. "He started developing these elongated heads. That tells the viewer that he felt that men had some possibilities in them, mental possibilities that they were not using."

In 2008, Young told the Broward New Times he painted angels to help mankind. "I'm trying to sweeten the world up," he said. "Spray it with honey."

Young's work often could be found at the Grace Café and Galleries in Dania Beach, where they sold for hundreds of dollars.

In recent years, Young was left penniless because of litigation and a falling out with a manager, Foreman said. "Apparently there is no money," he said. "Myself and a few other people are going to have to put money into his burial, unfortunately."

Young's health suffered along with his fortunes. He had diabetes and its complications, as well as complications from a 2007 kidney transplant. He was plagued by infections and a wounded foot. He lost weight and had to give up riding his beloved bicycle. About five months ago he became wheelchair-bound, said Foreman, who visited Young earlier this year.

For the past few months Young lived in a Miami nursing home, requiring constant supervision. His spirits flagged. "When a man loses his dignity, he loses the will to fight," Foreman said. "I think he was ready to move on to the next plane."

A funeral is tentatively planned for Saturday in Overtown.

Robert Nolin can be reached at or 954-356-4525.
Copyright © 2010, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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