Purvis Young was born in Liberty City in 1943 and grew up in what was derisively known in his youth as “Colored Town”, and now called Overtown. It was a time of segregation, discrimination and the rule of “Jim Crow” in south Florida, and Purvis grew up with few prospects for achieving anything like the “American Dream” in his lifetime. He dropped out of all-black Booker T. Washington High School after 10th grade, and by age 18 was serving four years of hard time at Raiford State Prison for burglary. Prison, however, brought him back to drawing, and when he returned to the streets of Overtown in the early 1960s he was eager to express himself through art. Inspired by the 1967 Chicago protest mural, the “Wall of Respect”, Purvis created his own vast assemblage on the walls of vacated bakery buildings along 14th Street and NW 3rd Avenue, known as “Goodbread Alley.” His paintings of heartfelt simplicity, bold color, power and symbolism soon attracted the attention of major Miami art collectors. Over the next 40 years he became known as one of America’s premier self-taught vernacular artists.
Purvis painted and drew constantly. His work reflected the despair and injustice of the urban and immigrant poor in Miami, as well as the larger national issues of the time – the Vietnam War, urban riots, police brutality the vast influx of refugees from all parts of the world. Despite the hard times, Purvis also reflected hope and redemption in his paintings – angels, saints, freedom horses and the promise of new life. The work is simple and sometimes even brutal, but few who see it can fail to be moved.