The title of José Parlá’s solo exhibition, “Walls, Diaries, and Paintings,” which opens Thursday at Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery in New York City, tells you all you really need to know about the show’s 15 new paintings.
Parlá, who in his younger days wrote graffiti in Miami in the 1990s, strives in his work to reproduce on large canvases and wood panels what’s often found outside on urban walls -- layers of paint, paper, grime and decay. And within those layers, Parla buries relics of personal history.
Parlá’s paintings are constructed through a complex process that incorporates collage (newspapers and posters), mixed media (cement, tiles), found objects (he once attached a payphone), drawing and paint. On top of that base, Parlá scrawls an elegant and repetitive script -- usually white -- that serves as his trademark.
The script, a blend of Asian calligraphy, street tags and Arabic script, can be as elegant as a single flowing line. At other times -- meaning, most of the time -- it, too, is layered, obsessively, to the point that it loses all sense of specificity. The lettering is pretty and refined but no more important than the stuff underneath.
There is more than a bit of Jackson Pollock in Parlá’s reliance on size and the use of a very distinct palette -- mostly in the rust, soot and smog end of the spectrum -- and some Robert Rauschenberg in the found material embedded -- sometimes buried -- beneath the surface.
“I felt a challenge to present art that originally existed outdoors -- inside, like art displayed in museums, and this was an interesting problem for me that needed a solution,” Parlá says in a statement on his website.
“I wanted to create works that retained their roots. My new paintings could not abandon their environment. I then embarked on a journey to search out in detail the dialogue of decaying walls, the marks on them, and what it all meant to me. This would lead the paintings to become memory documents. As a result, these works are time capsules, mixed documents of memory and research; part performance, as I impersonate the characters that leave their marks on walls.”
Roots are important to Parlá, who was born in 1973 in Miami to Cuban parents. He studied painting at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, and The New World School of the Arts in Miami. In a show at Cristina Grajales, Inc. in 2008 -- his last solo exhibition in New York -- Parlá, who now lives and works in Brooklyn, covered a wall with smaller paintings and mixed in old personal and family photographs and objects to nod at their influence in his work, which are named for places and personal memories.
More recently, Parlá says he has been influenced by his travels. In “New Grand Tour,” a group show at Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery last year, Parlá and several other artist friends, including his brother, Rey, whom Parlá credits as a major artistic influence, exhibited works inspired by a two-week trip to Asia in 2007.
“Walls, Diaries, and Paintings,” which runs through April 16, extends that theme. A new monograph, published by Hatje Cantz, will be available.
Check back on redbullusa.com this Friday, March 4, to see more photos and news from the exhibition.
For more from Richard S. Chang, follow him on Twitter: @r_s_c