Walls, Diaries and Paintings

José Parlá on experience and emotions in his solo show and new book


God is “a shout in the street.” So begins Greg Tate, channeling James Joyce, in “Walls, Diaries, and Paintings,” artist José Parlá’s new monograph of past and present work. It’s a conviction that has perhaps never rung more true as the particular modern art movement that Parlá helped define continues to take shape. First made famous by the likes of Jackson Pollock and Cy Twombly, the sentiment was further romanticized by the subway graffiti artists of the 1970s and ’80s and is now a gallery mainstay.

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Parlá, heavily influenced by Abstract Expressionism, with deep roots in writing (under the nom de plume Ease) as well as in hip hop and breakdancing, and possessing an acute awareness of the geography around him and the emotions connected to it, practically illustrates the evolution of graffiti himself.


The Brooklyn-based artist’s work takes these moments of time in the streets and makes them current on canvas for a whole new generation to explore. First and foremost a storyteller, he tells CH, “[I] love recalling the many crazy, fun, dark, wonderful, extreme, violent, happy or sad times that have passed me by. For sure when I am painting I need to exorcise some of the happenings of my life into something more than just a memory.” The stories he tells, through a mixture of paint, marker, paper, aerosol, charcoal and found objects allows Parlá to make these experiences physical.

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With a new show at Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery and the companion monograph releasing this week, Parlá shows us the full circle of his work, with each painting a brand new landscape to explore. As usual, each work is full of transcriptions where the viewer is invited to read as their own stories and layered memories. In “The Struggle Continues,” seen below, Parlá explores the concept of an artist needing to protect themselves once they start selling works. “No art school really prepares artists for the type of language that exists in the business world,” he says. It’s an experience anyone can relate to in their own transition into the workforce.


Another work addressing 9/11, “Victory” pays tribute to New York City. The painting is made up of posters collected from each of the five boroughs, and depicts the languages, cultures and stories that make up his city. And although his work takes inspiration from his travels from Tokyo to Istanbul to Havana, he admits that NYC is his favorite city in which to paint. “No other place in the world sounds quite like it, and this is part of what informs my personal rhythm for painting. I hope to translate the cacophony into a symphony.”

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Through these compositions, Parlá creates a sign of the times, but also much more. “I’m a writer using the medium of painting to translate my original roots through a semi-realistic, wall textured, calligraphic language rendered into abstraction,” he tells CH. It’s this constant evolution found in Parlá’s work that allows us as viewers to once again become excited and involved as active participants in modern art.


“Walls, Diaries, and Paintings”
 will be on view at Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery from 3 March 2011 through 16 April 2011.