Purvis Young was a storyteller. Considering his obsession for books and his insatiable appetite for knowledge about art, it is not surprising that his painting and his books of paintings appear to serve the purpose of books. They all contain, preserve, and document knowledge of real life situations. Whether in bound form or painted on found materials, Young's images always tell a story. Like his African-American ancestors who maintained the traditions and values of their people through storytelling, he continued to record the struggles, the hopes, and the joys of his world. Young's work has roots in the dreamy fields of high art subject matter--horses, nudes, etc. At the same time it is filled with the energy and syncretism of the world's vanguard American urban black culture. It is to outsider art what bebop is to the blues. The subject matter rides on a thick layer of color, attention, choice, and free-swinging composition that refers to a thousand years of composition before it. This work is anything but naïve.
Young lived and worked in Overtown, an inner city Miami neighborhood cut off by the highway overpasses that loom over it. He was of the community, but also, now, of the larger art world as well. He researched art history avidly and saw what other artists had done, spending years in the libraries that had supported his work. He chose his imagery out of Overtown and his own life, and out of the resonances of the past as well.