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© The Estate of Purvis Young. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion.


Artist: Purvis Young (Born in Liberty City, Florida, 1943 – 2010)
Culture: American
Date: c. 1985–1999
Medium: Mixed media
16 1/4 x 44 1/4 inches (41.3 x 112.4 cm)
Classification: Mixed Media
Credit Line: Gift of the Rubell Family Collection, Miami
Label Text:While many Outsider artists used their work to send messages about religion, Purvis Young's work comments on the injustices of the world around him. Young lived in Overtown, a section of Miami that was ripped apart by the construction of interstate highway 95 in the 1960s. Young's first widely celebrated artistic project was a large mural he created from castoff materials across the fronts of several abandoned buildings in Overtown. Visible from the interstate, the mural drew attention to the community below, which had largely been ignored when authorities decided to run a highway through its center.

Young's mixed-media paintings are packed with a vast array of personal signs and symbols that run beneath their surface appearances. Many of his works include elongated black figures with arms raised skyward. They allude to moments of worship, dance, ritual, protest, and bereavement. The rhythmic patterns of these figures are frequently paired with gestural illustrations of horses. To Young, the horse represented a benevolent symbol of hope that could carry people away from their oppressed state. Trucks, commonly seen in his neighborhood, also embody such hope of escape and transcendence. Floating heads depict angels who watch over people in difficult circumstances. Large black circles symbolize the victimized masses of the world. The large bluish-green circles allude to an all-seeing "Big Brother" presence, something he experienced first-hand while he spent some time in prison as a young adult. Young's work addresses issues of urban life such as social stratification and disenfranchisement while still communicating a message of transcendence, triumph, joy, and freedom.

Object number: 2010.10.5