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 Noah Purifoy  (1917 - 2004)

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Lived/Active: California/Alabama      Known for: sculptor-assemblage

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Ad Code: 3
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
Untitled (Standing Figure)
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
These Notes from AskART represent the beginning of a possible future biography for this artist. Please click here if you wish to help in its development:
Co-founder of the Watts Towers Arts Center in 1964 and served on the California Arts Council from 1976 to 1987.

His series of sculptures entitled "66 Signs of Neon" were constructed from debris from the 1968 Watts riots.

Source: Art in America, September 2004

Biography from Swann Galleries:
Noah Purifoy grew up in Alabama.  He graduated with an undergraduate degree from Alabama State Teachers College in 1943 and a graduate degree from Atlanta University in 1948.

Noah Purifoy moved to Los Angeles in 1953 to study at the Chouinard Art Institute.  Purifoy was not only the first African-American student to be enrolled full-time, he was a mature student, receiving a BFA in 1956, just before turning forty.

The Watts rebellion in 1965 changed Purifoy's life and art.  At the time, Noah Purifoy and fellow artist Judson Powell ran the art education program at the newly created Watts Towers Arts Center.  The Watts Towers center had grown as a sculpture garden around the towers of assemblage by the eccentric Italian-American Simon Rodia whom began building them in the 1920s. 

Together Powell and Purifoy organized "Junk Art: 66 Signs of Neon", a seminal exhibition at the University of Southern California.  They exhibited 66 art works made from found debris and junk, all detritus left in the wake of the Watts riots, alongside photographic documentation.

From this period, Purifoy created an important body of work, alongside with his fellow artist John Outterbridge, that is largely credited for influencing a whole generation of Californian assemblage artists from David Hammons to Senga Nengudi.

Purifoy worked in public art programs of the California Arts Council through the late 1980s.  He initiated programs such as 'Artists in Social Institutions,' which brought art into the state prison system.

Purifoy then moved to a large compound near Joshua Tree, California, in the Mojave desert, where over the last 15 years of his life he created a ten-acre site of large-scale assemblage sculpture.  Today the entire site is preserved in a cultural center and museum, run by the artist's non-profit foundation.

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