Purvis Young, Painting Life in the Ghetto

Sep 14, 2013 7:05PM

Purvis Young is the most exciting and important self-taught artist to have emerged in the 1980's.  Young, actually had received some art instruction while in Raiford prison in the 1960's and his earliest works reflect a style that predates the raw energy and direct assertiveness of his mature work. The label “self-taught” best describes his method of working. 

The resulting work constitutes some of the most honest and powerful art of the last decade. Meeting scurvily Young, one cannot help but be impressed by his deep heat felt concern for his community and acquaintances.  The abundance of pregnant women populating the street, the infusion of boat people, the trucks passing up above on the elevated interstate, violence, funerals and crying faces populate his surroundings. 

His materials tend to be the detritus or trash found in the streets, old books, ledgers, discarded paper, cardboard, wood, smashed doors and mirrors, to mention a few of Young's “supports”.  Not only are his images about the neighborhood, but the materials come from it as well. This “tired” and worn material has been the emotional energy that reinforces the themes of his work.  His painterly style coupled with robust, sweeping marking lends an aura of tumult, drive preoccupation and feeling.  Young's artistic genius is, in part, non-specific nature of his scenes; simplified to essentials, he presents universal situations.  

His figures are virtually abstract, reduced to long Franz Kline-like brushstrokes topped with a dot, suggesting body and head. The meaning resides in the power of the marks, and not in any details. Even Young's homemade “frames” function less as utilitarian frame than as a material with a real past that meta lends energy, humanity and life to the painted image.  

His style is unique because his vision, like their’s is unique. Despite, rudimentary art training, he ultimately worked from his emotions and produced an aesthetic system that implemented these powerful feelings, in effect, jettisoning everything he had learned.  The resulting art speaks with such as directness and power, entering the contemporary art scene at its highest levels.