Purvis Young (1943–2010) was born in the Liberty City neighborhood of Miami and raised in the neighboring community of Overtown. His paintings and assemblages are often displayed in dense groupings, sometimes covering entire gallery walls. When asked to pinpoint the start of his artistic practice Young would respond, “I been drawing all my life."
In the mid-1960s, when he first turned to painting, he depicted large faces that were haloed and looming. These angels became central figures in Young’s symbolic language of motifs—where locks signify injustice, pregnant women stand in for hope, and chains denote the bonds of slavery.
Despite the significant recognition he received during his lifetime, Young’s subject matter and materials remained constant, as he translated the discards from his neighborhood into depictions of it. Circling Overtown by bike, Young collected cast-off wood, cardboard, fiberboard, and furniture to use in his large assemblages, to which he applied industrial or acrylic paint. His prolific renderings of his community were first layered upon the walls of an abandoned passageway known as Goodbread Alley, and later piled in stacks that stretched toward the ceiling of his Wynwood studio. Today, they are housed in major museums and private collections, nationally and abroad.
In Collection Highlights: Purvis Young, the Arts Center will present five of his paintings for the first time since they were acquired from Kohler Foundation, Inc. Following this exhibition, they will move to the Art Preserve, a new collections and study center featuring artist-built environments, opening in 2021.
This exhibition is supported by the Kohler Trust for Arts and Education, the Frederic Cornell Kohler Charitable Trust, Kohler Foundation, Inc., and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.