It may seem odd that one of Miami’s hottest contemporary artists actually passed away almost a decade ago. But the painter Purvis Young hardly played by the rules of the art world even when he was still alive. Were he with us today, it’s likely he’d simply shrug at the wave of fresh excitement for his artwork—including a sprawling solo show at the Rubell Family Collection (RFC) that opened during this past December’s Art Basel fair and drew international raves, as well as an exhibit opening this month at the Instituteof Contemporary Art, Miami.
But Young’s attitude wasn’t the carefully choreographed market indifference of so many of today’s rising art stars—a pose that is itself a canny marketing move. Young focused on the act of painting itself—on whatever medium he could scavenge from the surrounding Overtown streets where he lived. Discarded doors, dresser drawers, packing crates—they were all makeshift canvases for him to lay out his mesmerizing dreamscapes wherein the realities of urban Miami bled into a more otherworldly realm: Crying angels looked down on hazy, traffic-clogged avenues; riders on horseback galloped past. In fact, Young often seemed unconcerned with what happened to his paintings once they were finished. Their creation itself was everything.
The RFC’s patriarch, Don Rubell, recalled a 1998 visit to the Wynwood warehouse that served as Young’s studio: “Mountains of paintings were stacked to the ceiling, with only a single-file path through them all.” Turns out there were also drawings amid those stacks, the cream of which go on display at the ICA, Miami, offering a fascinating alternate view of Young’s aesthetic. Sometimes the paper is simply a blank slate for his signature figures; other times the graphic elements of scavenged accounting ledger books become part of these beguiling drawings. Purvis Young: Drawings, May 16-Oct. 27, ICA Miami, icamiami.org