José Parlá - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Wednesday, June 22, 2022 | Phillips

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  • “I think what I am trying to go for in most of my work is that there is a language, visually, that unifies people. A global language that doesn’t look like English, Chinese, Arabic…etc. It’s a universal language. My message is not nationalistic, it is universal. I want people to be understanding of different cultures. I want to spread unity.”
    — José Parlá

    Unpacking memories of urban spaces, José Parlá’s enigmatic works lie between the boundary of abstraction and calligraphy. With a distinct focus on rapidly executed mark making, the artist channels the unruly energy of rugged city landscapes onto the canvas, capturing the specific characteristics of the streets and reflecting the passage of time through the physicality of his gestural paintings.


    Composed of layers of paint, drawing and found objects and texts, Parlá’s works resemble dilapidated building walls, translating ephemeral qualities of urban life onto his canvases. Utilising cities across the world as blueprints, the artist reflects accumulated memories and cultural histories, documenting the history of our neighbourhoods.


    The energy of New York’s dense city life plays out on the surface of Writers' Bench: Grand Concourse & 149th Street, The Bronx, which was exhibited at the artist’s first Institutional solo exhibition at The Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York in 2020. The series of works exhibited evokes the artist’s personal connection to the Bronx area, encapsulating the neighbourhood’s hip-hop energy and celebrating its historical significance within graffiti and street art culture.


    Installation view of the current work at José Parlá: It’s Yours, The Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York, 2020-2021


    Straight from the Streets


    Conjuring formal elements of gestural painting and graffiti, the rich build-up of surfaces within Parlá’s works resemble city walls, reflecting the marks and traced people leave behind in these rapidly changing neighbourhoods. Citing Urban Realism and Abstract Expressionism as catalysts for his creations, Parlá’s works are rooted in the context of ‘subway art, wall textures, cities, psycho-geography, and abstraction’ i. The title of the current work, Writers' Bench: Grand Concourse & 149th Street, The Bronx, directly references a New York landmark that is a popular meeting spot for graffiti artists across the city, located underground inside the metro station.


    The Writers’ Bench at 149th Street-Grand Concourse, New York


    Working off serendipitous inspiration, Parlá often ventured onto the streets with a map in different cities, ending up in new, strange places that are completely random. He collects photographs and selects artefacts as starting points, whilst adapting visual elements from torn advertisements, or colours and texts from the streets that work for his compositions. From there, layers of paint are added and subtracted, carved and accumulated, piecing together fragments of nostalgia and culminating into visual time-capsules that explore identity, socio-economics and history.


    Documenting Urban Histories


    Writers' Bench: Grand Concourse & 149th Street, The Bronx is beautifully emblematic of Parlá’s signature abstraction. His unique painterly aesthetic extends beyond gestural painting, allowing the viewer to peel away from their preconceived notions of communication, and instead to step back, contemplate and resonate with the work with an open mind. As the artist explains himself: ‘...think about it with space acting as an entryway. It’s not so direct. It’s an expansive landscape of ideas.’ ii


    Detail of the present lot

    Impossible to absorb at one glance, Writers' Bench: Grand Concourse & 149th Street, The Bronx demands movement from its viewer, compelling them to lean in and move back across its breadth to take in each miniscule detail. Eclectic textures intermingle on the canvas, with layers of intricate text overlapping restlessly above each other, creating not only physical layers but conceptual ones as well, portraying the passage of time, emanating the ambience of a lived-in city. As if plucked straight from the corners of the street, slivers of posters, adverts, and slogans peer through the crevices of the canvas in the current work. Hues of milky whites, burnt oranges and rosy reds dance and bounce off each other like neon lights at a crowded night market, palpating with rhythm.  


    Left: Cy Twombly, Untitled (Bacchus), 2008
    Tate Collection, London
    © Cy Twombly Foundation

    Right: Jackson Pollock, One: Number 31, 1950, 1950
    Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York
    © 2022 Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 

    Rooted in gesture painting and graffiti, Parlá’s compositions evokes the works of Cy Twombly and Jackson Pollock. Parlá’s works build on the visual foundation of a city’s urban environment, intertwining rhythmic linework with painstakingly accumulated layers. Labouring over these surfaces arduously, Parlá develops each layer in his paintings extensively, weaving traces of personal narratives and observations onto the canvas, each stroke of impasto represents a continuous memory.


    Collector’s Digest


    Primarily known for his large scale murals, José Parlá (b.1973) is a Cuban artist who is based in Brooklyn with a painterly style that is rooted in graffiti and street art, attracting  His notable mural projects include ONE: Union of the Senses in the lobby of One World Trade Centre; Nature of Language at the James B. Hunt Jr. Library at North Carolina State University; and the mural Diary of Brooklyn at the Barclays Centre.


    José Parlá’s work in the personal collection of Jay Chou


    Parlá’s recent exhibitions include: José Parlá: It’s Yours, The Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York (2020-2021); José Parlá: Entropies, Gana Art Ninone, Seoul (2020); and José Parlá: Textures of Memory, Ben Brown Fine Arts, Hong Kong (2019).    


    Garnering international acclaim, Parlá’s works are in the public collections of The British Museum, London; The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; Pérez Art Museum, Miami; POLA Museum of Art, Hakone, Japan; and The National Museum of Fine Arts, Havana, Cuba. The artist is represented by Ben Brown Fine Arts.


     The artist's gestural creative process



    ii José Parlá, quoted in Ambrose Leung, ‘José Parlá Walks Us Through His “TEXTURES OF MEMORY” Exhibition’, HypeArt, 25 September 2019, online

    • Provenance

      Ben Brown Fine Arts, London
      Acquired directly from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, The Bronx Museum of the Arts, José Parlá: It’s Yours, 9 September 2020 - 10 January 2021, pp. 28, 68-69 (illustrated)

    • Literature

      Max Lakin, 'José Parlá: Bronx Museum of the Arts', ArtForum, vol. 59, no. 5, March 2021, online (illustrated)


Writers' Bench: Grand Concourse & 149th Street, The Bronx

signed, titled and dated '"149th Street & Grand Concourse Writer's Bench" 2020 J Parlá' on the reverse
acrylic, ink, collage, enamel, and oil paint on canvas
153 x 244.3 cm. (60 1/4 x 96 1/8 in.)
Executed in 2020.

Full Cataloguing

HK$800,000 - 1,200,000 

Sold for HK$1,764,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 22 June 2022