Tap-Tap and Purvis Young

For the most part, Tap-Tap: Celebrating the Art of Haiti at the Frost Art Museum at Florida International University is old school, drawing from the museum’s permanent collection. In sync with the title, artists Yvens Leger and Lionel Simonis contribute papier-mché renderings done in the 1980s of Haiti’s brightly painted pickups and buses — passengers tap on whatever’s handy when they want to get out.

Wagler Vital’s Country Scene and Fishing Boats are all color and bucolic joy. Jacques Pierrette has captured the famed Iron Market in Port-au-Prince, which caught fire after the January earthquake. Gerard Fortune’s Untitled is concerned with twins, called Marassa in Vodou parlance and thought to protect believers; Jean-Enguerrand Gourgue’s work captures a Houngan, someone who officiates at a Vodou ceremony.

Edouard Duval-Carrié has an older piece in Tap-Tap. Done around the time of his arrival in Miami 17 years ago, Ayida Whedo depicts a water spirit that helps farmers. Haiti just can’t get a break, but it has always had an infinite cultural richness, and Duval-Carrié spans the old world and the new.


The life arc of the late Purvis Young was indistinguishable from his art, and the small Focus Gallery show up now at Miami Art Museum represents a limited glimpse of a prolific career that embodies all sorts of myth. The idea that real artists should be poor is hopelessly outdated now, as is the nobility of suffering. Ordinary life is rough enough. And there’s the romance of the unschooled street genius, often regarded in the popular imagination as somehow more equipped for real art than the guy who went to Yale.

Young, a hometown hero who died in April at 67, was a protean being, unable to stop working.  Although far from the young, media-savvy and talented Basquiat, Young did have true street cred. Raised in Liberty City, he went to jail for robbery at 18 and never seemed to have any money, even when his pictures started to sell for thousands.

Young first found fame with his Goodbread Alley installation in Overtown, painting pretty much everything on a street that took its name from the competing aromas of Bahamians and African Americans baking. At that time, he’d sell a painting for $20. Inspired by the Chicano and Black Power murals of the day, particularly the “Wall of Respect” mural in Chicago, he spat on the flag during the Nixon administration — then a brave act in Miami — and did more jail time, going on to depict protests. Somehow, the young rebel became venerable and wound up having museum shows, saluted by early rebel/current rich lady Jane Fonda.

The paintings on view at MAM, accomplished on the scraps of wood and other materials Young found during his daily jaunts around Overtown, have all the usual recurring imagery: wild horses as symbols of freedom; pregnant women as icons of new life; angels as protective spirits; railroad tracks; elongated faces in expressions of horror that recall Edvard Munch’s The Scream.


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