Though born in Snow Hill, Alabama in 1917, Noah Purifoy lived most of his life in Los Angeles and Joshua Tree, California, where he died in 2004. The exhibition of his work, Junk Dada, at LACMA in 2015 as well as the recent publication by Steidl of his notebooks and essays in High Desert, have contributed to the legacy of this long-overlooked artist who first came to prominence with sculpture assembled from the debris of the Watts Rebellion of 1965.
In the last fifteen years of his life Purifoy lived in the Mojave Desert where he created large-scale sculptures spread over ten acres. On visiting this site Hannah Collins made a series of exquisite black-andwhite photographic studies of Purifoy’s work. Her rigorous aesthetic stance is unwittingly reminiscent of the formality of Walker Evans, who would have greatly appreciated Purifoy’s transformation of discarded materials into grand yet vernacular forms.
Message from the Interior, Walker Evans’ photographic study of 1966, which through the selection of a handful of pictures of interiors suggests a wide and disparate landscape, became a model for the publication of Collins’ work from Purifoy’s site. Her 18 photographs are presented here in a format that exactly echoes Evans’ publication, both typographically and spatially. The intention is not imitative, but refers to the grandeur and scale achieved by Purifoy. Cumulatively his work becomes a transitory monument inevitably destined to decay into the desert itself.
I do not wish to be an artist. I only wish that art enables me to be. Noah Purifoy
About the Authors
Hannah Collins was born in London in 1956. From 1989 to 2010 she lived and worked in Barcelona, and today lives between London and Almeria, Spain. Collins has received many awards including a Fulbright Scholarship and was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1993. In 2015 a retrospective of her work was shown at the Sprengel Museum Hannover, in conjunction with the award of the Spectrum Prize. In addition to the Hannover retrospective publication, Collins’ last book was The Fragile Feast (2011). She has completed a recent body of work in Japan and has ongoing projects in Amazonia and the American South.
Noah Purifoy (1917–2004) moved to Los Angeles in 1953 and enrolled as the first African-American student at what is now the California Institute of the Arts. Purifoy graduated with a BFA just before his fortieth birthday. With fellow artist Judson Powell he organized the exhibition "66 Signs of Neon" with material salvaged from the Watts Rebellion. He co-founded the Watts Towers Arts Center, and initiated various programs to bring art into the prison system. The Noah Purifoy Outdoor Sculpture Museum is situated near Joshua Tree in the Mojave Desert.