Oral Histories

Interview of Noah Purifoy

African American artist. Creator of ten acres of sculpture near Joshua Tree.
African-American Artists of Los Angeles: Noah Purifoy
African American Artists of Los Angeles
African American History
Biographical Note:
African American artist. Creator of ten acres of sculpture near Joshua Tree.
Mason, Karen Anne
Purifoy, Noah
Persons Present:
Purifoy and Mason.
Place Conducted:
Purifoy's home in Joshua Tree, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Karen Anne Mason; B.A., English, Simmons College; M.A., Art History, UCLA.
Processing of Interview:
Steven J. Novak, editor, edited the interview. He checked the verbatim transcript of the interview against the original tape recordings, edited for punctuation, paragraphing, and spelling, and verified proper names. Words and phrases inserted by the editor have been bracketed. Purifoy reviewed the transcript. He verified proper names and made minor corrections and additions. Teresa Barnett, senior editor, prepared the table of contents. Rebecca Stone, editorial assistant, prepared the biographical summary and interview history. Novak compiled the index.
6.35 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
The interviews in the series African American Artists of Los Angeles document significant African American Artists and others in the Los Angeles metropolitan area who have worked to expand exhibition opportunities and public support for African American visual culture. The series was made possible in part by support from the UCLA Center for African American Studies, Institute of American Cultures.
Family background--Absence of art in early life--Education--Childhood interests--Military service--Goes into social work.
Interest in psychology and existentialism--Six Birds--Discovering the interrelation of mind and body--Attitude toward religion--Father Divine.
Begins career in social work--Attends Chouinard Art Institute--Working as a window trimmer and furniture designer--Begins working for the Watts Towers Arts Center--Interest in music--Relationships with women--Becomes a "Sunday painter"--Edward Kienholz.
More on Kienholz--Confronting contradictions of his philosophy--Niggers Ain't Never Ever Gonna Be Nothin'--All They Want To Do Is Drink + Fuck.
Gives up window trimming to work on his art--Assemblages--Developing programs at the Watts Towers Arts Center--The Watts riots--Leaves the Watts Towers Arts Center.
"Arts and the Poor" conference in Gaithersburg, Maryland--Bringing artists together for "66 Signs of Neon"--Using found objects--Individual pieces in "66 Signs of Neon"--Selfishness versus cooperation.
Exhibiting "66 Signs of Neon" at various universities--Intent of "66 Signs"--Teaching at University of California, Santa Cruz--The Watts Summer Festival--Challenging formalist notions of art--Steve Kent and the Improv Theater--Layering pieces to achieve depth.
Exploring sexuality--Symbols in his work--More on the Watts Summer Festival--Protest art--Impossibility of analyzing art--Working at the Central City Community Mental Health Facility.
Programs developed at the California Arts Council--Attempt to integrate art and education--Returns to doing his own art.
California Arts Council's problems funding minorities--Community agencies that funded the arts in the sixties--The Watts Summer Festival and the Watts Towers Music and Arts Festival--Reasons for the art boom of the sixties--Travels to Nigeria for the World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC).
Homes and studios in Los Angeles--Move to the desert--Recent artworks--Distinction between art he makes to exhibit and art he makes to sell.