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American, born 1973
Multimedia artist José Parlá finds inspiration in the history and experience of urban environments. His work is characterized by exuberant compositions that feature multilayered viscous surfaces and overlapping arcs of script. Amistad América is Parlá’s most ambitious project to date. It is comprised of typical strata, including variegated collage, dense pigments, and calligraphic strokes. At the same time the mural’s scale and metaphoric complexity are unprecedented.
Parlá began painting as an adolescent, experimenting with graffiti. What he learned would inform his mature artistic practice, such as how to create compositions on an architectural scale and the value of cultivating a signature style of handwriting. In addition to mastering the technical agility and sheer speed required for clandestine street painting, Parlá also developed an appreciation for the rigor of physical performance and an awareness that his body could translate the rhythms of music into visual expressions. Amistad América emerges from all these discoveries.
Equally significant, Parlá acquired a lifelong affinity for walls: as a substrate for painting, as witness to history, and as cultural metaphor. He takes photographs of walls he discovers around the globe and finds inspiration in their layered topographies. In their scarred and decayed surfaces, he recognizes our innate drive to make marks—a lineage that spans from primeval cave paintings to contemporary urban scrawls. For Parlá, walls contain geographic microcosms that reveal city grids and the borders between nations, as well as the traces of industry, trade, and migration.
Referring to his paintings as palimpsests or diaries, Parlá uses paint strokes to record his associations and impressions of places. Amistad América renders Austin through his eyes, with a palette that evokes its vast skies, abundant nature, and pulsing urban core. The painting suggests a continental map and routes that connect Austin to a much larger ecology. It also contains fragments of calligraphic lettering, including three key words partially obscured by thick masses of color: Austin, Guadalupe, and King. These not only locate the mural physically at the intersection of Austin’s Guadalupe Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, but also acknowledge its symbolic position as a place of Latinx and African American history and culture.
Amistad América offers a sweeping visual landscape that conjures Austin itself while situating the city within the larger geopolitics of the Americas. The title makes that connection concrete: La Amistad was a nineteenth-century Spanish trading ship that plied the Caribbean. In 1839 its African slave cargo famously mutinied, eventually re-establishing their liberty. Parlá chose the word both to commemorate this turbulent history and to celebrate its conciliatory and optimistic resonance: from Spanish, Amistad América translates to Friendship America.
Location: Robert B. Rowling Hall (RRH) Level B4
GPS: 30.282218, -97.741398