“Surfaces, whether they’re walls or canvases or sculptural objects, work as palimpsests for him, and I think that’s where his practice as a writer, as a painter, these calligraphic, gestural marks have meaning,” said Michael Rooks, the curator of modern and contemporary art at the High Museum of Art, in Atlanta, and the curator of the 2014 exhibition “José Parlá: Segmented Realities,” Parlá’s first major museum show.
“You can trace that impulse back to ancient wall writing,” Rooks continued. “If we think about other objects that evoke a similar social and cultural upheaval and transformation, like segments of the Berlin Wall, for example, they bear witness to history, with marks inscribed in their surface that had specific meanings for the viewer, for the maker, that may be lost.” Rooks considers Parlá a realist in this sense “because he is excavating our own experience” and invoking objects that are familiar, “that have layers of history.”
Parlá’s skill is finding dignity in the accidents of time, the stalactitic surfaces and loping marks of a city’s streetscape, the things that accumulate over time and are eventually lost to it.
Unsurprisingly, the restlessness that characterizes his paintings also translates to his schedule. He’s already at work on his next projects, presentations at the Brooklyn Museum and at Gana Art, in Seoul, as well as curating shows in Istanbul and Italy. Perhaps somewhat expectedly, he rejects that term, too: “I wouldn’t say a curator,” he laughed. “More like an anti-systematic operative.”
José Parlá: Polarities
Through Aug. 24, Library Street Collective, 1274 Library Street, Detroit, (313) 600-7443; lscgallery.com.