Thing To Do In Miami: Purvis Young Art Exhibit At Miami Central Station

Purvis Young’s work was a running commentary on his surroundings, a window into the concerns of his soul.

Hailing from Liberty City in Miami, the late artist was a fixture in the Overtown neighborhood and chronicled life there.

Now some of his pieces are on display in his beloved Overtown – thanks to a partnership between the Brightline intercity rail system and the Black Archives History and Research Foundation of South Florida.

The free exhibit features 19 original pieces inside the Premium Lounge at Miami Central Station (600 NW First Ave., Miami) with a QR code video showing Young describing his artwork and creative process. Art and videos were provided by the Black Archives, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to preserve materials that reflect African American life, experience, and culture in Miami-Dade County.

“Purvis Young was a modern-day griot in terms of how he documented the black experience through his eyes and what he saw in his environment,” says Timothy A. Barber, executive director of Black Archives. “All of his works were created from what many people would consider discarded trash: carpets, metals, phone books. He took that trash and treasured it through his artwork.”

Young, who died in 2010 at the age of 67, was a prolific and self-taught artist. His interest in art is said to have been sparked while he was imprisoned as a teenager, during a three-year sentence for breaking and entering. After his release, he is easily found in the library, where he spends his time devouring art books and studying greats like Cézanne, Rembrandt, El Greco and Van Gogh.

When he wasn’t at the library, he probably hung out in Good Bread Alley, supposedly because at one time residences and bakeries were said to sell bread there. But the construction of I-95 in Overtown caused a slowdown in the area.

Young refused to give up hope, mostly at work, trying to urgently transform the driveway into an artistic oasis. Thanks to his vision, Young eventually took the art world by storm.

“Here is a man who was considered insane and homeless. He painted on wood, metal, whatever he could find, and hung them outside abandoned buildings,” Barber said. “Now it’s the same work of art in museums around the world.”

Click to enlarge

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Keon Hardemon speaks at the launch of the Purvis Young exhibit.

Photo courtesy of Brightline

Nationally, Young’s pieces have been featured in institutions such as the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Young’s passing did little to lessen its impact. One of the reasons Young’s works are so important, Barber said, is that he looked beyond the burn and focused on aspects that most would easily overlook.

“He drew people with a halo above their heads because he saw the good in everything that was happening in the community,” Barber explains. “Showing your work allows people to dream big.”

Barber hopes those who view the exhibit will be inspired to explore the artist further by visiting the Black Archives, headquartered in the historic Overtown Lyric Theater and home to hundreds of works by the artist.

“We want people to know that the Black Archives is a repository of black history from 1896 to the present day. We’ve been around since 1977, and we’re certainly glad Brightline has given us the opportunity to showcase what the Black Archives are,” says Barber.

Brightline also donated $5,000 to the organization.

“This is the first time we’ve hosted an art exhibit as part of Black History Month,” said Patrick Goddard, president of Brightline. “We’re always looking for an opportunity to shine a spotlight on our communities…Overtown is a destination with a lot to offer, and we all have a lot to learn.”

For those who haven’t experienced Young’s art yet, Goddard said it was something that had to be done in person.

“I’m not an art curator, but I find Purvis Young’s works to be the kind of art you have to see in person,” he says. “It’s so much more impactful that way.”

– Sergy Odduro,

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Reggie S. Williams