José Parlá, Mirrors, Italy, 2017, acrylic, collage, ink, enamel, and plaster on canvas, 6 x 12'.

José Parlá, Mirrors, Italy, 2017, acrylic, collage, ink, enamel, and plaster on canvas, 6 x 12'.

José Parlá

Brand New Gallery

José Parlá, Mirrors, Italy, 2017, acrylic, collage, ink, enamel, and plaster on canvas, 6 x 12'.

José Parlá’s personal grand tour of Italy extended north to south through seven cities—Milan, Bologna, Rome, Naples, Matera, Bari, and Lecce—whose urban plans reveal profound differences in land, politics, and culture. The route was echoed in the artist’s ten new canvases on view here. Fragments of walls, which Parlá found and picked up along his travels, and other materials were superimposed in complex and harmonious abstract compositions.

In these works, the artist has a dual viewpoint. From a distance, the viewer could grasp the totality of the painting and the formal play among its constituent elements. Close up, however, the canvas once again became a wall of overlapping accumulation, each work evoking the path of discovery that led to the various materials with which its surface is dense. Proceeding almost to the point of touching the canvas, the viewer could perceive its life and depth.

The artist’s compositional strategy is likewise one of stratification. Mirrors, Italy (all works 2017), the largest piece, which also gave the show its title, is a multilevel surface where scraps of advertising posters torn from public walls interact with acrylic paint, ink, enamel, and plaster. The viewer’s gaze was drawn to a focal point of a raised eyebrow and one wide-open eye, a segment of face ripped from a poster. Around this eye, which looks out to the viewer, were small fragments of material buildup, as if the apparent and controlled chaos of the surface were converging toward this mysterious decentralized point.

Parlá triggers references to Mimmo Rotella’s décollage, Nouveau Réalisme, the tradition of assemblage, and gestural writing. The last was also a central element in the works on display: a personal, cursive, soft arabesque, which variously appeared and hid above and beneath the torn urban posters. Parlá employs writing systematically, in plaster portions and other detritus, as if it were still the rapid sign of the artist facing the wall.

While one might find an echo of the baroque light of Lecce in the texture of Vicolo Crety, Lecce, or the warm red of Lombard tile in Via Castelfidardo Milano, one would be hard-pressed to trace a precise correspondence to the cities whose names the paintings bear. There is nothing pedantic about Parlá’s interpretation of the walls, and he is not interested in representation. He weaves a personal, private dialogue with the urban space and with the imprints of time that cover it. Titling works according to names of the streets in which their components were found, the artist attests to the importance of the here and now of experience, anchoring material to a precise place and time. Parlá’s paintings are like memories of the city, palimpsests of signs narrating lives in passage, including the artist’s own.

Alessandra Pioselli

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.