Local artist-run publication, Conflict of Interest, featured a Q&A with José Parlá about Landmarks commission Amistad América. Read a snippet below and visit their site for the entire interview.
Public art in Austin is growing into a robust scene and gaining attention around the country. The latest addition to Landmarks, the public art program at The University of Texas at Austin, is a powerful, 4,000-square-foot mural by multimedia artist José Parlá. The work evokes the vast skies and expansive landscape of our beloved central Texas. The Brooklyn-based, Miami native finds inspiration in the history and experience of urban environments and Austin has proved to be a striking muse.
Catherine Zinser: Welcome to Texas! This mural is unlike anything in the Landmarks collection or in central Texas. One of the principles of building the Landmarks program is bringing great art to a broader public. As someone who started out as a graffiti artist and now works all over the world, what do you find appealing about commissions like this?
José Parlá: Landmarks is significant because it is not your typical museum space. It lives in the public. This is where I began my work as an artist. As a kid, I dreamed of being a painter. I used to sneak into a vocational school library in Miami and look at books on Picasso and Matisse. I knew I wanted to be a painter very early on. I got started painting walls, running around at the early stage of what became known as hip-hop culture. My dad was sort of the intellectual support for my dream and he would say to my brother and me — my brother Rey is also an artist — that what we were doing was similar to the historic cave paintings and that we were communicating with the public by making work on walls like the walls of caves. Public art is still holds a really strong and dear place for me.
The concept of this painting is storytelling through abstract painting. I’m always looking at history to give significance to abstract art. I believe that abstract art, in general, has the power to have a very wide, open, democratic conversation. That is one of the attractions that I have with it, because just about anyone from any walk of life can potentially find a message in abstract art that means something personal to them. Your imagination takes the lead and you become my collaborator, working with me to try to figure out this painting. Working in public spaces like this allows for the conversation to grow in many different directions.
Photo by Rey Parlá