Brooklyn-based artist José Parlá explores how time and urban identities are imprinted on architecture through paintings, prints, and large-scale painted murals that combine elements of graffiti, calligraphy, Abstract Expressionism, and collage. He also contemplates urban landscapes through sculpture, installations, photography, and video.
Born in Miami in 1973, Parlá began painting graffiti on city walls while a child. When only 16, he received a scholarship to study painting at the Savannah College of Art and Design, continuing his studies at Miami Dade Community College and New World School of the Arts, Miami. During the development of his career, he began combining graffiti with fine-art genres of calligraphy and 1950s Abstract Modernism—particularly Cy Twombly's freely visually expressive texts and Pollock's rhythmic dribbling technique.
Through Parlá's works, the artist tells stories about the urban cultures and people of the cities he has visited—including Miami, Brooklyn, Havana, London, Tokyo, Istanbul, and Hong Kong. He focuses closely on walls in urban settings, mimicking those encrusted with decades of posters, graffiti, weathering effects, and structural deterioration. He admires thickly layered encrustations of posters that read like palimpsests—surfaces that bear layers of torn printed paper from each ensuing generation. Exhibitions such as José Parlá: Segmented Realities (2015, High Museum of Art, Atlanta) recreate these walls in three dimension.
Parlá sources old posters from city streets, incorporating them into his paintings, writing over them relevant words that are, in turn, covered by thickly textured coloured splashes to evoke the visual characteristics of the source. His Twombly-like lines connect disparate elements, pulling them across time into a conceptual map of each particular urban space. The artist often pursues social causes in his artwork, highlighting location-specific inequalities and preserving what remains of urban histories on city walls before they are cleaned and white-washed by gentrification.
Parlá has exhibited in galleries and public spaces across the United States and internationally. His artworks feature in public and private collections that include the National Museum of Fine Arts, Havana; the British Museum, London; and the Pola Museum of Art in Hakone, Japan. In 2012 he worked on a collaboration with anonymous artist JR that was selected for the 11th Havana Biennial (2012), and since 2017 he has exhibited with Ben Brown Fine Arts at Art Basel in Hong Kong. He has also painted several large murals for public spaces, most notably One: Union of the Senses (2014) for the lobby of One World Trade Center.
José Parlá's paintings have no words, yet they speak volumes. Born in Miami, Florida, Parlá's family relocated to Puerto Rico soon after but returned to the "Magic City" when he was ten. It was there that he witnessed the burgeoning of hip hop and breakdancing scenes, as well as the explosion of graffiti culture. Pairing this with a...
Both in his life and his work, José Parlá is the very embodiment of a palimpsest. Amiable and kind on the surface, but scratch a little deeper and there's a lifetime of experiences bubbling, memories of obstacles overcome to achieve artistic success. Much like his life, Parlá's work is layered and verging on the third dimension.
On the occasion of Mirrors, his first solo show in Italy (currently on view at Brand New Gallery in Milan), artist José Parlá reflects upon the influences of the object trouvé on his latest artistic production.
Yesterday, in partnership with RxArt, a new work by artist José Parlá was unveiled at the Incarnation Children’s Center (ICC), New York City’s only skilled nursing facility providing specialized care for children and adolescents living with HIV/AIDS. The event also marked the kicking-off Kiehl’s charitable motorcycle ride.
A video about José Parlá's Amistad América, commissioned by Landmarks for The University of Texas at Austin. Featuring insights from the artist.