A stint in prison as a young man opened up Purvis Young to the world of art. While serving time for armed robbery, he discovered his creative talent and studied the art mural tradition, particularly urban murals from the 1960s and 1970s, such as Chicago’s Wall of Respect. He also admired canonized masters—El Greco, Rembrandt, and van Gogh, among others. Young distilled all these influences into his paintings, books, and assemblages. His first project in his neighborhood of Overtown—a desolate section of urban Miami—was an impromptu mural he painted on his block in the late 1960s; sadly, it no longer exists. He has since received several public art commissions, including one in the House of Blues restaurant in Orlando, Florida.
Knowing that his first attempt at artmaking was an outdoor mural, it is not surprising that he continued to work on a large scale. Extremely prolific, Young filled his vast home studio in a warehouse building with stacks of works, all covered with his trademark subjects—writhing crowds of people, arms upraised; powerful horses; tall, commanding pregnant women; armies of trucks and clusters of buildings.
Assemblage of Crowd Scenes is a large piece that recalls Robert Rauschenberg’s Combine paintings. Many small elements make a whole, tied together by similarly colored, rough-hewn frames. Not presenting an overall narrative, the various images are turned at different angles, though the entire piece is weighted by the large green rectangular painting at the base, which anchors the otherwise quiet palette. The activity within the painting, however, stands in stark contrast to the muted colors. Seething figures gather with upraised arms, hips cocked, in a stance that is simultaneously celebratory and urgent. This contradiction creates an energy in each “snapshot” and unifies the whole. A few scenes include trucks and vehicles, and in one composition the all-seeing eye, a familiar Young motif, is apparent. According to the artist, this eye, when painted blue, represents oppression by the white man. Assemblage of Crowd Scenes presents a tremendous visual cacophony that underscores the often fast, loud, and cluttered life of its maker’s urban environs. Naturally, Young’s figures are drawn as mere gestures of form—the artist had little time to document the fast-moving action that unfolded daily in the city around him.
Brooke Davis Anderson, "Assemblage of Crowd Scenes," in Stacy C. Hollander, American Anthem: Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum (New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with American Folk Art Museum, 2001), 401.