b. 1973, USA

José Parlá Biography

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.

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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.

Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2019

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José Parlá In Video & Audio

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