Burgess Modern + Contemporary puts the spotlight on Purvis Young, a self-taught painter from Miami’s Overtown neighborhood. In WARRIOR, Purvis used his art as a powerful expression of his life story and the experiences of his peers. Burgess Modern + Contemporary celebrates the works of this remarkable artist and honor him as an essential figure that shaped our understanding of Black Culture.
As of late, the state of our nation has presented a complex dichotomy that any diligent citizen is bound to reflect on. To be sure, unquestionable leaps have been taken in terms of advances and changes toward a more equitable milieu for all. However, the results have nevertheless left much desired in terms of unfettered acceptance and inclusion for varied cultural groups and identities.
Social and political episodes that have recently come to a head have yearned us to confront current issues, inciting judicious assessments of both past accomplishments as well as future endeavors that are necessary for purported diversity to take shape beyond superficiality and remain permanent fixtures of societal progress. This decade has been unprecedented in many regards, not the least of which being the events that have unfolded. From Black Lives Matter protests to widespread calls to action around racial injustice, the past several years have seen a surge in public outcry and activism -- a call for meaningful change that is driving us further than ever before towards a more equitable society. Yes, we can certainly view this time as a catalyst for enacting much-needed change as citizens recognize their collective power to affect social justice. The question now is what we will do with this momentum and if these events are indeed the impetus for lasting and tangible progress against racism and inequality.
In times of tension and turmoil, art can offer a beacon of clarity and peaceful alternative. Purvis Young is an exemplary example of an artist whose work speaks directly to our current strife and seeks to provide guidance forward. As a Black American artist from the streets of Miami's Overtown region, Young's depictions make power palpable, urging viewers to look within for introspection and moral growth. His somber figures with vibrant artistic expressionism has granted insight into the soul of civil unrest and the possibility that future strife can be diverted through bold strides towards pro-social reform. Herein lies Young’s greatest contribution: A sober reminder that constructive dialogue is key if we are to chart a new course away from destruction and despair - his inspiring works provide us with direction on that path forward.
Purvis Young created artworks that express powerful, figurative systems of allegory focusing on the many social injustices and racial inequalities he encountered in his lifetime. His art both conveys the literal realities of prejudiced treatment endured by African Americans and works to explore new ways to break through some of this maltreatment. By employing his distinctive style Young's art has come to embody a cautionary tale for our nation, along with spiritual guidance- one that stretches from our collective past and present policies. As such, his was an unwavering voice in showcasing minority experience during a time rife with tension between economic classes and racial identity.
In times of intense political tension, it can feel like respect for one another's beliefs and opinions is a distant notion. Therefore, what stands out are those courageous young people who use their artistic voices to rally around the matters of social significance. Young was one such artist whose signature aesthetics has even become an ambassador for national politics. His work sparked conversations that moved beyond divisive party lines, putting the spotlight on issues that persistently plagues us. Thus, we have a cornerstone of source material to grow from, transcending the typical bureaucracy and inspiring meaningful discourse.
Through his fascinating artwork, he was able to implement a new way of urban storytelling that conveys a graphic freshness that no other genre has been able to capture. Initially gaining notoriety as an Outsider Artist due to his lack of traditional artistic education, he is now regarded by collectors as a pioneer in the Street Art movement, having set a path for artists to come who sought to explore similar themes. Over the years Purvis Young's work has become more celebrated as it reaches increased numbers of people; with its style being labeled Urban or Social Expressionism - demonstrating how much more needs to be studied regarding this invaluable yet underappreciated artist.
Purvis Young's inspiring and stirring art pieces allow us to reflect on the past and contemplate our current situation, giving us hope for a better, more unified future. Embodying both spiritual vigor and impactful drives for change, his creations use the power of his artistic voice as if it were an indispensable tool in the battle for progress within our country. He empowers us with emotional revelations that foster meaningful dialogue so that we can seek to find solutions to our nation's most pressing issues. His works are a beacon of deep thought-provoking motivation and hopeful aspirations which never fail to bring excitement and appreciation from those who experience them.
Purvis Young encountered firsthand the brutalizing effects of structural discrimination and segregation that drove an already disenfranchised group even further into poverty and despair. His hometown of Overtown, Florida suffered a starkly visible disparity, with flourishing businesses juxtaposed against the insufficient housing facilities and harsh policing tactics employed by those in power to maintain order in an imbalanced society. The movements for Civil Rights and Black Power enabled Young to recognize the real grievances Black Americans were subjected to throughout Miami and beyond: economic exploitation, racism, police brutality, unemployment, and more. Thus, it is no wonder that he chose to devote his artworks to exposing these injustices, pausing not only as an artist but also as an integral participant in creating a much-needed change during a time of turmoil.
Purvis Young's “Saint Michael's Battle”, a painting of circa 1980's, is a remarkable dynamic composition that captures the essence of an iconoclastic episode from the Bible. Created with mixed media and carpet on board, the painting measures 48 x 96 inches, and features an array of figures - white and blue horses, protestors, marchers, and angels singing in the sky. At the helm of the scene is the angel overseeing it all - believed to be Saint Michael as mentioned in Revelation 12:7-12. The battle between him and his angels against Satan delivers a powerful representation of his victory over evil and good prevailing harmony. This marvelous piece tells its story both through vibrant visual elements as well as deeply rooted symbolism, making it a striking testament to Purvis Young's exceptional artistic practice.
Purvis Young's "Warriors Together" resonates mightily with today's generation of activists, serving as an anthem of unity and purpose. His work speaks to the fervent commitment that these social disruptors must working towards a greater good, a stark reminder of what we can accomplish when we stand together in solidarity. Even though this movement is largely driven by youth insurgency, the message at its core serves as a clarion call for those who are disillusioned and disenfranchised; it has been embraced by people from all walks of life who strive in unison to actualize immense systemic changes. Indeed, one could even say that such fighters in this cultural revolution embody the spirit and voice of Young's warriors: bravely on their path to triumphantly bring about transformative shifts in our social landscape.
Young was a master of a signature aesthetic and expressionism, attempting to chronicle the struggles and triumphs of his peoples through ethereal usages of color, pattern, and form. His 1973 painting “Warriors Together” is no exception; it speaks directly to our hearts in a language that goes beyond physical boundaries but only captures metaphysical truths. In this urban hieroglyphic narrative, scenes of ancient warriors on horses represent the timeless battles for justice and basic human rights, with monochromatic earth tones accented by red markings for the violence and black silhouettes for the victims.; mere symbols of stories centuries old yet still too relevant today. “Warriors Together” paints a reminder of the ultimate sacrifice required by oppressive systems and gives us pause to consider what battles remain. It is a picture that holds both tangible beauty and immeasurable weight while simultaneously honoring the past, living our present needs, and continuing to guide us as we look towards our future.
"Free Them, Now" is a powerful painting that celebrates the fight for justice and the uncanny courage of those who have been wrongfully imprisoned. With a hypnotic composition, five tiers of prisoners grapple ferociously with the bars of their cages, their relentless cries for reform seemingly reverberating off the canvas. On the right-hand side of the picture stands an awe-inspiring figure adorned in gold and encircled by a heavenly halo - a brave leader who vocalizes his steadfast commitment to freedom with every intense note he belts out. This surprisingly simple artwork not only embodies our unease with ongoing racial injustice in our criminal justice systems today, but also serves as an acknowledgement of slavery, Apartheid and mass incarcerations past. Through this work we are reminded to seek and atone for our mistakes so that we may better equip ourselves to move forward into brighter times.
Purvis Young's art begs viewers to sit in silence and really listen. Captured on the ripped, torn, and crumbled paper are not simply cries of agony, desire, or yearning - they also encompass movements of marching and Divine Intervention that express man's need for hope. In his artwork, “Drawing from the 1990's #426”, Acrylic Paint and ink on paper, 14 x 20 inches, Young implores us to remember what it means to truly listen; to take notice of our own presence in this hostile world and recognize the stories that have yet to be understood. Through his unique visual aesthetic, he provided viewers with an opportunity for introspection, challenging us to look past the urgency of his art to uncover its underlying message.
Purvis Young's impact on artistically portraying the struggles of African American and minority populations across the country is incontestable. His bold, emotive work has earned him recognition in over 60 museum collections, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, DeYoung Museum and Philadelphia Museum of Art that have among them some of the most renowned art collections in America. Not only revered within his own time, Young's artistic legacy persists to this day, forming an integral part of our national narrative concerning both civil rights and freedom of expression.
For more information on Purvis Young - WARRIOR, at Burgess Modern + Contemporary, call the gallery at 954-524-2100, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by Gabriel Delgado