Presented here is an homage to the self-taught artist Purvis Young. His seminal Good Bread Alley mural was executed on the side of abandoned warehouses in the Overtown section of Miami from 1971 to 1974. Made up of hundreds of individual paintings over a three-year period – but conceived as a singular evolving work of art – the mural launched the artist’s career and called attention to the plight of his long-suffering neighborhood. Young’s work wrestles with the profound challenges facing African-Americans in the past and present: injustice, class inequality, the Vietnam War, and the oppression of racism. He painted on found plywood and other discarded items and applied them densely to a row of buildings known locally as Good Bread Alley for the area’s once-thriving Bahamian bakeries. In 1975, the city razed the structures and, in so doing, destroyed or dispersed many of Young’s paintings from that period. The present installation therefore includes work from all decades of Young’s career. While no longer extant, the mural resonates today as a cultural milestone for the city of Miami and is one of the purest examples of the potency of 20th-century Black folk art in the American South.
Purvis Young (born 1943 in Miami) lived his entire life in Miami, except for the three years he served in the Raiford State Penitentiary for breaking and entering. With only a grade school education and a burgeoning interest in art, he settled in Overtown in 1971 and began painting in earnest. Despite the recognition and patronage he enjoyed after the Good Bread Alley mural project, he never gained financial stability. Supported by some, exploited by others, Young’s last years were punctuated by poor health and legal entanglements. He died in 2010 in Miami.