Saturday, July 31, 2010


All week I'd been anticipating seeing the preview of the Purvis Young retrospective on Thrusday at the Miami Art Museum. Purvis Young (who died in April at the age of 69) was an urban expressionist painter who was born and lived in Miami's Overtown, the black neighborhood that was demolished along with its music/art/and social nexus in the 1970s when the I-95 expressway was erected downtown. Young stayed on, filling his warehouse/studio with thousands of paintings on cardboard, plywood, and all kinds of found materials. He educated himself through library books, NPR, and PBS and was markedly affected by and involved in the mid-century civil rights movement. An evanescence pervades his work. Its gentle surrealism is far more satisfying than Marc Chagall's. Within the relentless, vivid kinetecism of his surfaces lies a constant tranquillity. The fluid linearity of his figures often resembles the Lascaux-like markings of Picasso's "picador" series. The silhouettes of pregnant women and construction cranes are equally fluid. Every inch of his paintings is animated with his passion for paint, devotion to the the brush, and love of seeing. By the time of his death, his paintings had been acquired by museums and collectors all over the world.

The exhibit itself had, sadly, only about eight works. Among those closely inspecting the pictures was a handsome black woman with two teenage boys. When a guard rushed over to admonish them for touching the work, the woman replied, "Lady, these pictures have been sitting in my backyard for 35 years. I'm Purvis's wife and these are his grandsons, and we worked with him on the frames of every one of them. Don't tell me not to touch them." Her name was Eddye Mae, but, as she explained to me, Purvis called her Betty. He called everyone by a nickname. The boys, Dquon, 17, and Devante, 14, were as long, tall, and beautifully molded as the figures in Purvis's paintings. While I talked with them, a vulture flew by -- a blonde Broward woman handing out glossy business cards and hawking her collection of Purvis Young's art. Hard to think that she and Eddye Mae occupied the same planet, let along floor space. Eddye Mae told me she was rather "phobic" of people these days as we watched the harpie work the room.

A documentary film on Purvis's life and work was screened downstairs -- it showed him in civil rights footage, during the demolition of Overtown, with his famous sidewalk wall of pictures erected during the 70s, interviews with collectors, friends, family, neighbors, and, most of all, with Purvis. He was a monumental man -- big, genial, stubborn, obsessed. I thought about what a joy and agony it must have been for Eddye Mae to love and put up with such man for 35 years and that she, probably, deserved at least as much a tribute as this show.

After the film (which is a terrifically made documentary but two first-time filmmakers whose names I wish I could remember), the crowd dispersed into groups of loud reminiscence and acclaim. Clustered among them were other members of Purvis's family -- children, grandchildren, even a few-week-old great-grandbaby in a carrier. Outside the harpie was again hawking her collection amidst the smokers.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


For many years, I worked as a figure model for artists. The painting, on the right, entitled Half of Everything is Ours, is by the artist and anthropologist Judith Hoch who uses the name JuJu. It was created in the 1990s and is shown, today, in Judith's studio in Wainui Bay, New Zealand next to a double self-portrait and the New York Times pronouncement we've all been waiting for.

Friday, July 16, 2010



....and BUTTONS and BOWS

We are born from seed and so is beauty. From the time the first seeds were saved, not for planting, but to be strung together for adornment and protection, their dormant life brought forth the art of jewelry. From seeds came beads, and from beads followed the stones and shards and fossils, the teeth and bone and shells and feathers that, sewn together, were recognizable in pattern and form as signifiers of power.

Humans donned jewelry long before clothing. Necklaces, bracelets, finger and toe rings, earrings, medals, tiaras, and crowns served, first, to attract the opposite sex and, later, as symbolic shields for the wearers. Emblems of mystical, political, and medicinal authority, early jewelry was imbued with the power of blessings, beauty, and the safeguarding of life.

In the baskets of beads are the seeds of the peony vine, which, in the Lukumi religion, are used in ceremonies invoking the god Shango for help in decision making. The story (or one of several) relates that a terrific argument between seeds as to which color they should be, red or black, became so noisy that Shango had to come forth to mediate. “Enough,” he said, and imprisoned the seeds inside a gourd and shook them all together. “Now you are both colors,” he declared. The maracas are shaken and necklaces of these seeds are worn to bring forth Shango’s wisdom and assistance.

Peony vine seeds likes these in the photo grew wild around the house I grew up in Miami. I remember being told never to put them in my mouth, that they were poisonous, which, actually, they’re not. Seeing them causes me to remember the rattling of their vines within the still-wild landscape of my youth.

The Goddess Fulfaggotra, the second image, has taken her seeds and beads to the limit. She surveys Miracle Mile, the grand boulevard of Coral Gables, which I also grew up exploring. Her hauteur and immodesty are of one who has no doubt of the power of her jewelry.

For a glimpse of the most beautiful of nature’s adornments, take a look at Hans Silvester’s photos/video of the people of Ethiopia’s Omo River Valley. It will take your breath away:

Friday, July 9, 2010



Even while the era of Tiffany windows is long gone, the hungry eye can still find tasty morsels on Miracle Mile where the poetry of the fabulous lives on.