Inspired by the protest art he witnessed during the turbulent 1960s and by works of the masters he saw illustrated in discarded books, Purvis Young chronicled a personal view of Overtown, his Miami, Florida neighborhood, which reached far beyond the confines of place and time. Many of his early artworks, which were rendered on castoff materials (principally wood panels), became parts of his now-legendary Good Bread Alley mural, a coherent ensemble that covered the facades of abandoned buildings on a block once known for its Caribbean bakeries. The captivating display drew the attention of important collectors, including Dr. Bernard Davis, the former owner of the Miami Museum of Art, and launched Young’s career. According to noted scholar and collector Gordon W. Bailey, “Purvis lived to create; he was astonishingly prolific. Motivated by his desire to effect social change, he used his considerable gifts to document the disparity he witnessed and to inspire others to rise above their unfortunate circumstances. Purvis was an urban expressionist, completely committed to his muse—his community. His best works are infused with a near-kinetic energy. You can practically hear his cityscapes and the festive sounds of commotion.” In People Celebrating, Young’s inventive framing adds depth to the exuberant central scene where a joyful motion is created by the bright colors and repeated sinuous calligraphic lines of the silhouettes—both hallmarks of Young’s unique artistic signature.
Valérie Rousseau, “People Celebrating,” exhibition label for Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum. Stacy C. Hollander and Valérie Rousseau, curators. New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2014.