Amistad América Audio Guide

José Parlá

American, born 1973

Amistad América

Acrylic, plaster, and ink on canvas
304 x 1947 3/4 in.

Commission, Landmarks, The University of Texas at Austin, 2018

Location: Robert B. Rowling Hall (RRH) Level B4
GPS: 30.282218, -97.741398
Audio file

Hello my name is Carlo McCormick, I am a critic and curator based in New York and I’ve known José Parlá now for many years and been able to follow his work. So I thought I’d talk to you a little about his piece here, Amistad América, that he’s done for the Landmarks commission which is part of The University of Texas.

José Parlá speaks from a very personal history but it’s a history in many ways we share. So in his particular case, he is born a Cuban-American and he’s raised very early on in Puerto Rico and then he goes to Miami and he accrues all these different cultures along the way. He starts as a kid in Miami making his marks on the walls and like a true artist he is not just satisfied with getting his name up. He starts to contemplate this language and how it can communicate in other ways and not just about the self but in a way that draws us in. The skills he learns come out in a really fine art way in what we call composition. So if you can step back as far as you can, consider how these colors echo around the work; how there is a bit of red here and a bit of red there; how the darker colors coming in or the blue or the orange colors for the land and the blues for the sky and the water. It’s really complicated and really intricate process. Something that we can call almost a dance.

Jose thinks very much about this space because we are now underground aren’t we? So he’s thinking about the history of cave painting. It’s hardwired in us, this idea of everywhere we go we try to tell a story, we try to express who we are, we try simply say “I was here. This is my mark and this is what I’m leaving behind.” 

Part of the history of mark-making is that it speaks to the eternal but it lives in the ephemeral. I think one of the feelings we can get from this is kind of abrading, weathering, and tiring of these images; how they exist with the land and how they exist with the walls. If you think that part of what goes on with graffiti is the constant going over of each other’s work. So it kind of becomes this dialogue between all the different hands that are there between the forces that eradicate it—whether they are other humans or nature itself.

It’s very much a conversation, his work. It comes from a very personal place. As kind of an empathic communicator he wants very much to engage with the site specificity. We are at the corner of Martin Luther King, Boulevard and Guadalupe. These are, for him, traces of the history of América. The América actually has an accent over the e, so he doesn’t mean the America with a capital A flag waving kind of America, he means all of the Americas. This conversation he is bringing to us is very much about all the people who have been through this land and where they have come from. And if you think about the way these lines are curling and this kind of map making structures in here, you get a sense that is also a conversation about how people travel through space, about how this geo-political map we have is only part of the picture. We’ve accumulated this rich history because of our migrations. And so you can actually see, if you look around, you might see the word Austin in here. If you go up the balcony you can really get up close to this mural and see the types of textures he’s creating to evoke the land; to evoke how we are mapmaking upon this place; by what we do, by what we leave behind, by this collective history, how we are creating a bigger narrative of who we are. Which is a very important thing to consider at this time.