The Orlando Museum of Art (OMA) is pleased to announce the gift of 24 paintings by the internationally renowned artist and native Floridian, Purvis Young. In addition to this extraordinary gift, which will be added to OMA’s permanent collection, an additional 10 paintings will be on long-term loan to the Museum. OMA is grateful to Daniel Aubry, a New York based collector, for this generous gift and the accompanying loans. This gift will substantially enhance the depth and diversity of the Museum’s collection of contemporary art.
Purvis Young (1943-2010) was a self-taught artist who lived and worked in Overtown, a historically African-American neighborhood adjacent to downtown Miami. Working on materials such as discarded scraps of wood, metal and cardboard found on neighboring streets, Young developed an expressive and visionary style of painting rooted in his experience as an African American living in an economically distressed community. Following a period of incarceration as a teenager, Young began to draw and paint as a way of critiquing the circumstances of life in his impoverished community. By the 1970s, Young began to receive local recognition, exhibiting his paintings by the hundreds in abandoned buildings in Overtown. His local success eventually led to national and international recognition with exhibitions throughout the U.S. and in Europe. His work was championed by many important contemporary art collectors such as Mr. Aubry, Bernard Davis, and Donald and Mera Rubell. Today his work is included in the collections of American Folk Art Museum, New York, NY; Hampton University Museum, Hampton, VA; High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA; Morehead State University, Morehead, KY; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; Newark Museum, Newark, NJ; New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, LA; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC; Studio Museum of Harlem, New York, NY; and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA, among many others.
Young’s distinctively shaped paintings and assemblages speak to their source as refuse found by the artist in his Overtown neighborhood. Old fencing, broken furniture, and scraps of carpet reflect the conditions of poverty and distress experienced in many cities. Yet the paintings that Young produced on these materials are often positive and intended to inspire the viewer with a vision of a better world. This theme is particularly evident in his depiction of “angels,” which reoccur throughout the paintings gifted to OMA. These angels often appear in his work as large floating heads and faces surrounded by other figures, the urban landscape, or rocky pinnacles. They are symbolic of “good people,” whose lives and work bring others hope. With these paintings, Young expressed both his optimism for the future and his critique of social injustice suffered by people in his community. “I paint what I see… I paint the problems of the world,” said Young.
Angels are only one of the many subjects that make up Young’s complex and symbolic iconography. Among other imagery, seen in the OMA’s new collection of paintings, are cityscapes populated by boldly painted figures gathering together, marching in protest, or joyfully lifting their arms in dance. Often painted in mass, with rapid, undulating brushstrokes, these figures animate his paintings with a vibrant energy. In some paintings, the figures move through streets full of towering buildings that seem to tilt and sway in rhythm with the moving figures. In others, the hubbub of city life is captured with quickly jotted images of trucks, cars, and even horses going to and fro through the streets. These upbeat subjects are at times countered by darker images that include helmeted soldiers, tanks, funeral processions, and boats filled with refugees. As a whole, this body of work represents the full range of Young’s passionate engagement with the life of his community and his concern with issues of racism and social justice that are as relevant today as they were during his lifetime.
The Orlando Museum of Art’s mission is to inspire creativity, passion and intellectual curiosity by connecting people with art and new ideas. The Museum is located in the Loch Haven Cultural Park just minutes away from downtown. For more information, please visit www.omart.org.
Image credit: Purvis Young, Two Angels, early 1990s, paint on wood, 23 ½ x 35 in. Gift of Daniel Aubry. © Purvis Young. Image courtesy of the Orlando Museum of Art; Image of Purvis Young courtesy of Souls Grown Deep Foundation.