By BRUCE WEBER APRIL 24, 2010
“Purvis Young, a self-taught painter who emerged from prison as a young man and by dint of his striking, expressionist vision of urban life and mammoth output over more than three decades transformed a forgotten Miami neighborhood into a destination for contemporary art aficionados, died on Tuesday in Miami. He was 67.”
Purvis Young passed away on April 21, 2010 after turning 67 on February 4. Those of us who had the privilege of being his friend know that a “great soul” has been taken from us. Purvis was a true and consummate artist who lived entirely for his art. He leaves behind a considerable body of work which has given pleasure to countless people who have seen it in the over sixty museums in which his vibrant expressionistic paintings have been shown. Purvis will live on through his paintings and in the memory of his friends and myriad collectors. © Daniel Aubry
My last encounter with Miami artist Purvis Young was in New York. I had the pleasure of taking him to lunch at Sylvia’s in Harlem for “rib sticking” Southern food–Chitlins, corn bread, collard greens–the works. On the wall next to our table were photos of the many celebrities for whom Sylvia’s is an obligatory destination above 125th street. Among them was ex-president Clinton, whose office was at the time within easy walking distance.
As we were leaving the restaurant and getting into my car, Purvis shyly asked whether we could stop and take a look the Apollo Theater. He said he’d love see the place where so many of his Jazz and Blues heroes had performed. We took in the Apollo and Times Square, another wish, before I deposited Purvis at the home of a major collector, where he and his manager were staying.
Somewhere among Purvis’s belongings, his wife Eddie May may find a baseball cap emblazoned with the sequined word “Harlem ” which I purchased from a street vendor for Purvis that day. It was the last time I was to see him but his colossal presence will remain with me always.
There’s an old Russian saying that: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Purvis was an archetypal “hedgehog” and the one big thing he knew is that he was born to paint. Now Purvis rests among the angels whom he painted so assiduously all of his adult life. The same angels who appeared to him in his prison cell as a teenager and told him that a new life as an artist was waiting for him outside. And what a life it’s been! What an amazing outpouring of artistic exploration, growth, and creativity.
A “Great Soul” has left us….
Fortunately Purvis Young’s work will continue to inspire and give pleasure, not just to us, but to future generations. Of that I am absolutely certain.
© Daniel Aubry