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Currently on view at Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery in Chelsea, José Parlá’s newest exhibition features works drawing from the artist’s experience within the urban landscape. The show’s title “In Medias Res” comes from film terminology meaning to start a movie in the middle, a sentiment that aptly fuses the history of the gallery, which primarily focuses on photography and new media, and the autobiographical, narrative quality of the show. Parlá’s densely layered paintings provide snapshots of significant places throughout his history, as Wolkowitz asserted during a walk-through with us. “All of José’s works have a deep-seated biography to them, which I don’t think is necessarily the case for all artists but I know for José it is. These are references to his biography, be they cultural, political, musical, artistic…and so inevitably they find their way into the work,” he said.
The show begins with a pair of simulated walls. The largestructures are perpendicular to one another and offset by about two feet. They appear to be slabs of concrete, painted over and worn down from years of use, but in fact, the frame is wood, and the texture is a complex mixture of media ranging from plaster to acrylic to ink. On the right is the smaller of the two. Called The Ghetto, it references Parlá’s days growing up as a street artist in Miami, Florida. The artist partially spelled out the name of the work in bold graffiti type that fades from orange cream to coral, the letters’ three-dimensionality rendered in lime. It appears faded and chipped, as plaster and paint conjure the decrepit beauty of a wall worn from years of painting and repainting, wind and weather. On the left, the larger sculpture is called San Lazaro Y Genios and represents a wall from Havana, Cuba in layers of black, cream, deep cerulean, and peach. Juxtaposed, these walls provide an origin for Parlá’s personal narrative, a life that begins as a child born in Miami to Cuban parents.
Farther into the gallery space is a collection of various works on paper. Again, Parlá’s incredibly dense layering tricks the eyes, and it is hard to believe that the tangible textural buildup of gesso, acrylic, ink, plaster, gel medium. and pigment is not on a sturdier surface. Farther still, the final room of the gallery opens up to reveal a number of large-scale paintings on canvas. Continuing the importance of place in the artist’s life and practice, Commodore Park references the evolution and occasional degeneration of a park near his home in Brooklyn, New York. It incorporates posters found nearby as a sort of physical memento to the place it encapsulates, embedded within layers of paint, enamel and script. Another work, Hot Gowanus, acts as a chronical through Parlá’s practice from the streets of Miami to his current studio in Gowanus. Upon a base of ice blue and ochre punctuated by scribbled white, the title is written in a deep orangey-red and placed next to Parlá’s tag from his graffiti days in black: “Ease.”
On the back wall is a site specific work that alludes to the artist’s recent large-scale commissions and murals for spaces like the Barclays Center, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and One World Trade Center. Installed on a series of panels so as to be saved and/or sold, the work is a massive, grungy marvel that asserts his skill with visual and physical space. Flooded with raspberry pink paint and peppered with posters and graffiti, the work is reminiscent of a wall in a run-down music venue. It seems an appropriate culmination to the story so far, a narrative that is often retrospective. This work, as is the case with many in the show is as much in the past as in the present. Parla shares his stories with us, but they aren’t always chronological. “With José’s work it’s not always so clean to go back from the start or to go most recent work back,” said Wolkowitz. “We can kind of just plop ourselves into the middle of his history and find our way to where we are now or to where he is now.”
“In Medias Res” will be on view at Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery at 505 West 24th Street through October 18.