I , personally, don’t think of Purvis Young as an “ Outsider Artist “ . In fact I consider the term somewhat offensive. To me, it’s simply one more “ ghetto “ in which the art establishment likes to “ pigeon hole “ artists who don’t conveniently fall into their accepted genres.
The term “Outsider artist “ encompasses, in addition to self-taught artists like Grandma Moses and Purvis Young, the mentally ill, the visionaries and the closet pedophiles.
Yes, Purvis Young is self-taught. But he’s self-taught by a genius. Despite his lack of a formal education, Purvis is quite familiar with the history of art from extended forays at the public library.
Ask him about the English painter, Turner, and Purvis will grin: “ I likes Turner, “ he’ll tell you. “ He’s a cool dude…”
Still there is no denying that Purvis has a wide and loyal following among collectors of “ outsider art “.
Which is why Young was, as usual, well represented at this year’s Outsider Art Fair, which closed in New York last Sunday. There were at least four booths showing Purvises. I arrived late to the show so I may have missed some.
One exhibitor had several rare pieces from the early 1970’s. This period, usually referred to as Good bread Alley, is when Purvis Young first achieved a certain notoriety by covering an entire block long warehouse wall in Overtown, Miami with his distinctively colorful expressionistic paintings.
It didn’t hurt that the warehouse was visible from nearby interstate I 95. Made curious by this unusual display, people took the nearest exit ramp to have a closer look. Many liked what they saw and bought paintings for as much as $25. Each. Purvis didn’t mind. To him it was like trading in counterfeit money. He couldn’t quite believe that somany people were willing to pay him for what he most loved to do.
Recently a stunning large painting from this period, a black “ Christ “ figure, his arms outspread, both hands intentionally cut off by the picture frame changed hands for “ six figures “.
The two same sized ‘70’s paintings in this show were priced at $25,000 each.
Another booth had a wonderful piece from the early nineteen eighties, an Angel headed surrounded by wild horse, two of Purvis Young’s most enduring motifs. The same dealer had two Purvis “sketch books. The larger of the two was priced at $15,000.
The show bears out what I have long believed-that Purvis Young is a major artist who is still largely underappreciated and underpriced.
I find this to be especially true of the best quality work, which sells for prices similar to those of a young emerging artist with a freshly minted MFA from Columbia. The difference being that Purvis Young has been painting consistently for forty years, and has his work in innumerable private collections and hanging in over sixty museums!
Just imagine what his work would sell for if Purvis Young were white, educated and articulate! And, while twittering he had his face on Facebook !