Within 10 minutes of his show, “Walls, Diaries and Paintings,” opening at the Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery in New York City, Jose Parla was mobbed and signing his latest book, released in conjunction with the show. Standing in the middle of the gallery, he took some time to talk about his latest batch of paintings.
Every painting here presents a different story and emotion. Do you have to be in a specific mindset for each?
Each painting gives me that break. If I’ve got a certain energy for this one, and I’m going and going for hours, there comes a point when I step back and realize I can’t touch it anymore. But I’m amped, so I look at this one (pointing to a painting behind him) and my eye for some reason goes directly to where I’ve got to keep painting on this one. So this one pulls me in, and I’m in there. I bounce around a lot of the works. They’re all sort of having a conversation in the studio. They’re teaching me. They’re all done together – these works here – and they’re all teaching me as I go along.
I grew up in a Cuban family, lots of music every single day.
When I look at this painting (A Biographical Dance of Combined Stories) I first see what’s on the front – the massive script – but then when I look closer I noticed there was another painting underneath. Is there another thought underneath that’s been covered up?
Well, I started this painting out, and you can see how at the bottom there’s this brown color and there’s a blue color at the top – it had a real basic foundation: the Earth, the sky, the universe. It’s a painting titled, A Biographical Dance of Combined Stories, so I’m going with this rhythm. I grew up in a Cuban family, lots of music every single day. My mom loves to dance in the house while she’s cooking, playing. My family’s lively, you know? A family that’s suffered a lot, but Cubans have a way of just bring the light out. So that’s my energy, that’s my life. I love music, I love dancing, and this piece is about a lot of personal stories.
Literally, it’s from journals. I’m copying from my journals – journals from travel, experiences, life, love, death, suffering, joy, happiness, parties. It gets layered and layered and layered as a private diary that no one else can read but me. But it’s also meant for the viewer to read that through feeling. So it becomes your story when you’re looking at it.
When you look at it, do you revisit those emotions and stories that created the painting?
I do. I revisit my own stories that I know I put down. I see some of the words I wrote, but also I revisit that when I go see other artists that are abstract. When I see a Jackson Pollock painting, I wonder what he was going through in his life at that moment.
Do you write a lot?
I keep journals. I travel a lot, so when I’m on planes I find it most peaceful time and the inspiration to write. I’m isolated. No one’s calling. No email. I’m up there and I’m writing. And there are times during the week when I get into this mode where I’m painting and I’m writing as I paint. And I’m on the subway and I take some notes and I go, “I want to put this in a painting later.” I keep logs of titles and ideas. And then I eventually use them all in the paintings.
All of it is an experiment, finding new materials, new ways to paint decay.
Everything is fabricated?
Everything is done by myself by hand. But it’s all – like you said, all the little details, the phone numbers, the drawings, everything going on is like a sampling of life. Even the decay, everything, everything.
Do you experiment?
All of it is an experiment, finding new materials, new ways to paint decay. How does this painting decay differently from that painting, so I’m not repeating things. How did a wall look in London versus a wall in Melbourne, Australia. What did the weather do to a wall in Thailand versus a wall in Havana, Cuba, Istanbul, Buenos Aires, Colombia, San Juan. So you think about weather and time, time capsules, it’s a lot of dimensions.
So when you’re walking down the street, you’re view of the world is very different than the rest of the world’s.
The light, the texture, the moss, the way that a pipe busts, the rust that’s been going down for years.
Was there a moment when you realized you were doing this?
It was a real conscious decision. I’m painting, and at first I was really interested in the writing, the calligraphy, and I was like, “This can’t go on canvas without arming the paintings with this environment.”
I had to bring the environment, and most of the environment was abandoned, derelict, where homeless people lived. It was bombed-out non-places around the city that had a specific conversation with me that is very clear to see it’s where social lines were drawn, like a Vietnam veteran coming back and finding himself homeless after he fought for his country, telling me stories because I’m down there painting, and then he’s teaching me stuff that you won’t read about or learn at school.
And there’s stuff that you’re learning from older artists that were in the street or older artists that had their own stories, stuff that you would never learn from your professors at college, so I was able to get something that I feel is the inside scoop on life.
For more from Richard S. Chang, follow him on Twitter: @r_s_c
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