José Parlá - Disruptors: Evening Sale of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Design and Watches Hong Kong Thursday, May 25, 2023 | Phillips
  • “Although illegible at first sight, the juxtaposed characters, gestures, hieroglyphs, and words become readable through feeling, as it is my hope that the work evokes the language of your own inner voice — of your own history.”
    — José Parlá


    José Parlá is an internationally renowned New York-based Cuban artist who has established a name for himself for his innovative painting techniques which challenge and disrupt traditional approaches to mark-making. Known for his intensely charged compositions filled with colour and texture, his paintings lay between the boundary of abstraction and calligraphy to depict a visual autobiography of Parlá’s life. Executed in 2020, New Language Forms is an exquisite work from Parlá’s oeuvre that showcases an evident marriage between textural confections and gestural strokes, both quintessential characteristics of the artist’s distinctive visual language.


    Parlá has a unique method of working that involves a process of layering and building up his paintings over time. He often starts by applying a base layer of plaster or other materials onto the canvas, and then uses a variety of tools such as brushes, scrapers, and even his hands to create marks and textures. He next applies layers of paint and other materials on top, often using a technique he calls ‘writing’ to create calligraphic marks that suggest the flow of language and communication, which is also alluded to by the present work’s title. The electric textural result brings to mind graffiti scrawled on city walls, reflecting the marks and traced people leave behind in these rapidly changing neighbourhoods. At the same time, this harkens back to Parla’s early days as a former tagger who would sign his graffiti works with his nickname ‘Ease’.



    Detail of the present lot


    Parlá’s process is intuitive and improvisational, as he allows the formation of the work itself to evolve and change, guiding him to its ultimate finalisation. This approach results in a powerful sense of depth and complexity, with multiple layers of meaning and emotion embedded within each painting’s surface.


    “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

    As showcased by New Language Forms, Parlá’s paintings almost resemble distressed city walls. The writer Greg Tate explains: ‘What José Parlá's paintings force us to realise, as good historical paintings always do, is that given enough time and entropy even the hurtling locomotive motion of the streets can be arrested, contemplated, symbolically apprehended, studied, replicated. The temptation to call Parlá a 'post-graffiti’ painter is great but I'd prefer we recognise him as a historical landscape painter even though his historical landscape is made of concrete, wood and wallboard and his 'histories' derive from personal memories and from events buried and embedded in the gorgeous erosions and ruination of time and weather deposit[ed] on your average urban walls.’ i


    Visual Poetry


    My work is a reflection of the urban environment, the textures and layers of the city and the people that inhabit it. ”
    — José Parlá


    Parlá’s work is celebrated for blurring the boundaries between painting, drawing, and writing. In an interview with The New York Times, the artist described his approach as a kind of ‘visual poetry’, as he blends together influence found in the textures, layers, and surfaces of his surroundings and translates them into abstract compositions that convey a sense of history, memory, and urban experience. He has also noted the influence of his travels and interactions with diverse cultures, particularly his time living and working in Havana, Cuba.


    At the same time, Parlá also cites finding inspiration in works by artists including the Abstract Expressionists, as well as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Cy Twombly. Twombly's 8 Odi di Orazio (1988) and Jose Parlá’s New Language Forms, for example, indeed share a similarity in both artist’s use of gestural marks and sweeping brushstrokes. Both artists' styles are characterised by an expressive and spontaneous approach to mark-making, which imbue their works with a sense of energy and dynamic movement.


    Cy Twombly, 8 Odi di Orazio, 1968
    Artwork: © Cy Twombly Foundation


    Twombly's Blackboard series was heavily influenced by his interest in classical literature and his fascination with the written word, whilst Parla's New Language Forms also reflects a deep interest in language and calligraphy, whilst simultaneously relating to the artist’s own multicultural background and his experiences with street art and graffiti. Despite a difference in inspiration, both Twombly and Parlá demonstrate a commitment to exploring the boundaries of painting and challenging traditional techniques within their oeuvre.


    New Language Forms

    “I found inspiration in the essence of words and their combined power however abstract within a landscape of gestural forms and characters that serve as carriers of meaning.  Within this meta-landscape a viewer is welcomed to read into or feel the Nature of this universal language putting grammatical forms on hold.”
    — José Parlá


    The title of the present work, New Language Forms, alludes to both Parlá’s unique visual language and also to our universal longing for communication and understanding. It might be interpreted as an invitation from the artist to explore new forms of expression which transcend conventional boundaries and open up fresh possibilities for dialogue. The painting’s highly textured surface suggests a sense of energy, dynamism, and infinite possibility in its exploration of these new forms. In this way, it invites viewers to look beyond what is visible on the canvas and contemplate its deeper meanings. Ultimately, New Language Forms speaks to Parlá’s unwavering commitment to push boundaries and create works that can be understood as abstract storytelling, as he explores new possibilities for expression and communication through abstraction.




      José Parlá discusses his practice in his studio



    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.

    • Demonstrative of the strength of the artist’s market, Parlá’s top result at auction was only recently achieved by Phillips Hong Kong in 2022 with the sale of Writers' Bench: Grand Concourse & 149th Street, The Bronx. Executed the same year as New Language Forms, the work sold for an impressive HKD 1,764,000 (USD 224,721) 

    • The artist has been celebrated across extensive solo shows worldwide. His most recent exhibitions include a solo show at Gana Art Center in Seoul, (27 October 2022 – 4 December 2022), and the show Textures of Memory held by Ben Brown Fine Arts in Hong Kong (19 September 2019 – 4 November 2019). Chinatown Chronicle was first exhibited during his UK solo show “Adaptation / Translation”, at Elms Lesters Painting Rooms in London in 2008. 

    • 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.


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


    i Greg Tate, ‘On José Parlá and the art of psycho-geography’, José Parlá websiteonline

    • Provenance

      Ben Brown Fine Arts, Hong Kong
      Acquired from the above by the present owner


New Language Forms

signed, titled and dated '"NEW LANGUAGE FORMS" © J Parlá 2020' on the reverse
acrylic, enamel and plaster on canvas
127.5 x 92 cm. (50 1/4 x 36 1/4 in.)
Executed in 2020.

Full Cataloguing

HK$380,000 - 580,000 

Sold for HK$355,600

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Disruptors: Evening Sale of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Design and Watches

Hong Kong Auction 25 May 2023