José Parlá

Charged abstraction with a language of its own.

artist sitting on a ladder in front of a large scale painting on a studio wall
artist painting with a brush on a large scale canvas
very close up photo of Jose Parla's hand applying blue paint to canvas with a palette knife
9 images

Cuban-American artist José Parlá was born 1973 in Miami, Florida and now practices in Brooklyn, New York.

Career

The artist was awarded a scholarship from Savannah College of Art & Design at just 16 years old when a teacher discovered the already-exceptional calibre of his work.

Did you know?

Many cite It’s Yours, Parlá’s 2021 solo exhibition at The Bronx Museum of The Arts, as New York's last great pre-pandemic opening.

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Practice overview

In monumental, gestural paintings Parlá connects autobiography with grand subcultural histories. His signature stylized writing - with roots in both Japanese and Arabic calligraphy and street art - is painted and scratched into the surface and ultimately, through dense layering, rendered illegible. Created with a wealth of materials, techniques and pigments, the paintings evoke post-war German Abstraction as easily as the textures of urban space like graffitied trains and peeling billboards. Parlá’s experimental process is embedded in dance. The artist explains that, growing up in 1980s Miami music (and hip-hop in particular) was a unifying community force. Feeding from traditional Cuban melodies, salsa and reggae, he leaps, jumps and climbs across his works, leaving the imprint of his body on the surface. This poetic athleticism, for Parlá, symbolises the power of art and culture at large.

All of Parlá’s work is politically engaged. Driven to enlist new audiences to fine art, he creates large-scale public murals across the globe. Walls are also used symbolically throughout his practice to represent boundaries that are both personal and political, particularly concerning his heritage as a Cuban American. Parlá cites the fall of the Iron Curtain as a crucial moment in his own life, as it made many Cuban people question the future of their country in the context of its revolutionary socialist history. As a result, Parlá’s physical mark-making seethes with the weight of lived experience and, like bodily relics of time and place, exposes the sublime capacities of storytelling through texture.

"The process in my work is similar to that of the city. The work builds its foundation through memory."José Parlá