Purvis Young was born in Liberty City, a neighborhood of Miami, Florida, on February 2, 1943. As a young boy his uncle introduced him to drawing, but Young lost interest quickly. He never attended high school.
In the early seventies he found inspiration in the mural movements of Chicago and Detroit, and decided to create a mural of inspiration - Overtown. He had never painted before, but inspiration struck and he began to create paintings and nailing them to the boarded up storefronts that formed the alley.
The mural garnished media attention, subsequently making Purvis a celebrity in Miami. In the late 1990s and early 2000s he began exploring other inspirations by watching historical documentaries about war, the Great Depression, commerce, and Native American conflicts and struggles in the United States. In 1999 the Rubell family, notable art collectors from New York, purchased the entire content of Young's studio, a collection of almost 3,000 pieces. In 2008 the Rubell's donated 108 works to Morehouse College.
Young found strong influence in Western art history and voraciously absorbed books from his nearby public library by Rembrandt, Vincent van Gogh, Gauguin, El Greco,Daumier and Picasso. His work was vibrant and colorful, and was described as appearing like fingerpainting. Reoccurring themes in his work were angels, wild horses, and urban landscapes. Through his works he expressed social and racial issues, and served as an outspoken activist about politics and bureaucracy. He is credited with influencing the art movement terms Social Expressionism or Urban Expressionism.
Purvis Young died on April 20, 2010, in Miami.