Jose Parla‘s paintings are a mirror, a reflection of life in the city, of the walls he works on throughout the World. His uniquely expressive painting style – a energetic fission of text and image – is a continuation of his graffiti work which he has been immersed in since the early 80’s.
Parla sees walls as a living history, a container for what was and is, sites in which the energy, history and the culture of urban society are made visible, where human memory and psychology are inscribed. This is where he begins.
I was always looking at walls, so I carried a camera all the time. It was just as important to document the walls that we were painting as [to paint] them. At the same time that I was taking photographs of the pieces on walls — like the traditional old school graffiti that we were doing — I was also taking photographs of the buildings that we were painting, or the train yards. The art of the walls I saw then was really deteriorated, or rusted, or the paint had chipped, or there were parts of the walls where people had painted over each other for years. Sometimes I could see that sort of history of the wall, and that always interested me as a language, a dialogue of voices in the street. I started to see that there was a birth, a death, and a rebirth going on. People in the street communicate indirectly via the walls. Sort of a sporadic germination of history that was taking place on the walls — a random process of life, death and rebirth. And that became, eventually, my subject matter.
His paintings are a series of many layered backgrounds, a miasma of paint, distressed surfaces and collage, onto which he writes in an indecipherable language that only he understands, rhythmic text that speak to him of the city he is present in – each unique, each with its own sense of being, each a fluid space in which culture lives, dies and is reborn. A continuous seam of stories that unfold within our imagination.
Largely inspired by his roots in Miami’s graffiti scene Parla’s highly personal, emotive, intricate and labour intensive work is about the cultural will to make a mark and the reality and beauty of decay. Here’s an excerpt from a great interview he did for Block magazine on his process:
Graffiti is not just an art, you have to think about it like this: it’s a lifestyle. It’s a subculture that was a counter culture. It came out of many different things. It’s a human instinct that’s probably existed for centuries. The type of style I come from, coming out of New York City, Miami, it’s the voice of the ghetto, you could say. It strongly comes from street culture — young people needing to figure themselves out culturally. It came out of the 70’s and 80’s when there were major economic cutbacks in the school system. They said there wasn’t enough money to advocate more culture in the schools, like more art, dance, or music classes.
When all that was cut back, I feel that young people still needed to express their feelings and they took it upon themselves to invent art. So, graffiti art, break dancing, and different styles of punk rock that came out, or skate culture, a lot of the counter culture that was coming out, I think was just something that people needed to do. If you look at it, it was a whole subculture of art that was controlled by youth. And the youth rejected anything that had the parents telling them what the art should be like. Or the schools telling them what the art should be like, and the more they were told what to do, the more the artwork became rebellious and more self-sustained within a certain code and language.
If you have the time you should check out his other work and writings on his site.