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José Parlá
José Parlá work in progress for One: Union of the Senses, at Parlá Studios, BrooklynPhotography by Rey Parlá

Meet the Judges: José Parlá

The artist and Emerging Artists Award judge reveals all about his incredible 90ft mural at One World Trade Center

2015 Converse x Dazed Emerging Artists Award judge José Parlá is a maverick documentarian of city life. His style originated in graffiti’s experimental and collaborative approaches during the eighties. Using the backdrop of world cities, he remakes in paint expressionistic, photorealist fragments of what he sees in the chaos and rush of the metropolis. His works lie at the boundary between abstraction and calligraphy.

This year, the critically acclaimed artist was commissioned to create a colossal 90-foot mural for the ground floor of the newly built One World Trade Center in Manhattan occupying the spot right by the Twin Towers that collapsed after the terrorist attacks in 2001. We speak to Parlá about how he approached this significant and ambitious artwork.

“ONE: Union of the Senses” is the largest work you’ve ever created. What was the process of creating the 90-foot mural? 

José Parlá: The process of making a large-scale work involves more than painting it.  First it involves meetings with the architects and commissioners to determine how the panels will be built and transported. Because it is for a massive surface it has to be fire rated material and there is a lot of details that go into planning everything involved.  My studio luckily allowed for a large painting and panels to be built in location, and after the surface was primed I started painting in a layering process that resembles the build up of memory over time in what took me over 10 months of painting before completing the work.

How did you respond to the One World Trade Center site in your work? 

José Parlá: My response was simple, to pour all of my love and attention into this painting. The painting is a dedication to the international and diverse community that will visit the One World Trade Center over the years. It is also a reflection of the city of New York and the layers of history that make New York City unique in the planet.

What did you hope to express in the mural?

José Parlá: Unity. I imagined that when a person would stand in front of my painting and spend a moment with it, that alone or collectively there would 

be an experience of synesthesia, a union of the senses. 

Your work is rooted in a fascination with the urban environment – what does the city mean to you?

José Parlá: The City is a collection of stories both in constant real time and in its reflective layers of memory. The city is always a work in progress and a four-dimensional zone with diversity of consciousness and ever changing faces. My work documents my personal interpretations of places and experiences in cities, therefore creating an alternative to conventional meaning. 

In your journey from writer to art world star you’ve remained true to your signature style. Do you see the audiences as any different? 

José Parlá: Growing up writing and painting on walls, creating art within the culture of being a writer has always been very special because it started with working in public. Ever since the beginning I kept sketchbooks, painted canvases, and documented works and my life through photography together with my brother Rey. The nature of creativity is to express oneself through an idea. And when art is in the public it is to be seen by everyone who confronts it so the audience is wide ranging. Within the gallery space, the audience is confined to those who visit the space, so in that sense I think it is limited. My continued interest is to blend the two worlds and expose art to people in places they least suspect it, and to expose the kind of art they don’t suspect to see in a certain place. 

Submissions are now open, for a chance to exhibit at the Royal Academy of Arts click here