José Parlá captures the beauty of urban decay at Ben Brown Fine Art

The circle of city life is conjured on canvas at this captivating London exhibition

Time Engraved in Names, 2018. Acrylic, ink, paper and plaster on canvas, 152.4cm x 243.8 cm
Time Engraved in Names, 2018. Acrylic, ink, paper and plaster on canvas, 152.4cm x 243.8 cm

Abstract expressionism meets urban art in the work of José Parlá, whose latest collection of large-scale paintings and sculptures is set to take centre stage at Ben Brown Fine Arts in Mayfair from Wednesday October 3 to Friday November 9 (priced $75,000 to $200,000).

Echo of Impressions, 2018. Acrylic, ink, enamel, paper and plaster on canvas, 182.9cm x 457.2cm
Echo of Impressions, 2018. Acrylic, ink, enamel, paper and plaster on canvas, 182.9cm x 457.2cm
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Echo of Impressions will include a dozen paintings created this year that explore the metropolitan, including the 183cm x 457cm work of the same name that plays with darkness, light and colour – the contrast of beauty and harshness will be familiar to any city dweller. Remnants of words appear in the pieces as graffiti or swirling calligraphy – a style that links to the artist’s earlier work and is particularly impactful in Time Engraved in Names, where peeling paintwork creeps up-and-over part of the canvas. Parlá’s collection, however, is not devoid of hope. Nature’s Subconscious Projections and Imprint, for example, celebrate the colour to be found beneath – and before – decay.

Forged Remambrance, 2018. Acrylic, oil ink, paper and plaster on canvas, 121.9cm x 182.9cm
Forged Remambrance, 2018. Acrylic, oil ink, paper and plaster on canvas, 121.9cm x 182.9cm
Manifestation of the Body's Revolution, 2018. Acrylic, ink, enamel, paper and plaster on canvas, 152.4cm x 243.8cm
Manifestation of the Body's Revolution, 2018. Acrylic, ink, enamel, paper and plaster on canvas, 152.4cm x 243.8cm

Hidden within the acrylic and spray paint are advertising posters, political slogans and fragments of building debris and recycled materials – used by Parlá to emphasise the “relentless cycle of construction and destruction within the city” and the economic, social and environmental concerns that are recurring themes for the New York-based artist. Parlá spent his childhood in Puerto Rico but moved with his Cuban parents to Miami in the 1980s. It was there that he discovered street art, before finding the giant canvas of the New York subway when relocating to the city in his 20s. 

Evolutionary Adaptation, 2018. Acrylic, oil ink, enamel, paper and plaster on canvas, 121.9cm x 182.9cm
Evolutionary Adaptation, 2018. Acrylic, oil ink, enamel, paper and plaster on canvas, 121.9cm x 182.9cm
Imprint, 2018. Acrylic, oil ink, paper and plaster on canvas, 121.9cm x 182.9cm
Imprint, 2018. Acrylic, oil ink, paper and plaster on canvas, 121.9cm x 182.9cm

The two sculptures in the exhibition were made in 2015 and 2016: Miami, Florida, USA – crafted from condensed foam, steel epoxy resin and fibreglass – speaks of rust and neglect; Lincoln Road and Hurricane Andrew considers a different sort of urban destruction – the storm that hit Florida in 1992.

Lincoln Road and Hurricane Andrew, 2016. Acrylic, enamel, collage and plaster on wood, 182.9cm x 121.9cm x 30.5cm
Lincoln Road and Hurricane Andrew, 2016. Acrylic, enamel, collage and plaster on wood, 182.9cm x 121.9cm x 30.5cm
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