Lisa Corrin and Debra Kerr on Purvis Young as a witness to his world [Video]

The Block Museum presents “Looking Life Right Straight in the Face”: The Art of Purvis Young from September 23 – December 10, 2017. On October 19th, 2017 Lisa Corrin Ellen Philips Katz Director of the Block Museum was joined in conversation by Debra Kerr, Director of the Intuit Art Center, for a gallery talk about the exhibition and the life of this under-recognized American artist.

From the conversation:

“Exhibitions by Purvis in the past almost painted him as a saintly figure…There hasn’t been any serious looking the different subjects he decided to take on.   We realized we really didn’t think he was a visionary at all.  We saw him as a witness. He was watching these dramatic transformations that were taking place in his neighborhood.  As he developed as an artist he wanted to tell the story of the everyday people that surrounded him.”

Watch the Video

<p><a href=”″>Gallery Conversation: The Art of Purvis Young</a> from <a href=””>Block Museum</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

About the Exhibition

Purvis Young (1943–2010) produced a sizable body of work that includes paintings, murals, books, and drawings. Across these media, he explored themes reflecting his responses to the tumultuous events and social changes that took place in Overtown, Florida, where he spent his entire life. He would return to these themes—the destruction of predominantly African American urban neighborhoods like Overtown caused by systemic racism and disenfranchisement, the transhistorical struggles of immigrants and people of color, and the hopes of these communities—throughout his career, using materials scavenged from the neighborhood: “What you find on the street is yours. You don’t have to pay man for it. It was there for you.”

Indeed, Overtown was a wellspring of inspiration. Discarded wooden boards and old furniture became suggestive spaces for the recurring personal morphology of forms and symbols that Young created to represent his observations: pregnant women, horses, boats, trucks, eyeballs, angels, and groups of people. Some of Young’s works were based on live models or drawn from what he saw during his daily bike rides, and the local library was a beloved resource for his voracious appetite for knowledge. He also found kinship with “boat people” from Haiti and Cuba, protesters, and the famous artists he discovered while reading books and watching public television.

Young’s art has been described as depicting a vibrant yet disconnected internal world. This exhibition challenges that cliché by revealing how attentive Young was to everything happening around him, translating his reflections into an original artistic vision. For Young, a self-taught artist, these observations also mirrored those taking place beyond his neighborhood. Rather than portraying a fantastical, isolated world, Young’s work holds a mirror to both the worlds within and far beyond Overtown, and is a testament to his extraordinary capacity for, as he put it, “looking life right straight in its face.”

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