José Parlá: ISTHMUS
  -    -  José Parlá: ISTHMUS


“When I first visited Istanbul in 1999, its people and the beautiful environment they live in fascinated me.  I felt an immediate connection to the city as somehow it also reminded me of Havana, Cuba, the home of my parents.  The energy of the Bosporus, the walls of the town and the calligraphy inscribed on temple walls were inspiring at first sight. I wondered what life was like for the calligraphers of the Ottoman Empire, and I always dreamed of doing a project that would allow me to pay homage to a culture of masterful calligraphers in world history.”

– José Parlá


ISTANBUL’74 will present Cuban American contemporary artist José Parlá’s “ISTHMUS” exhibition running parallel to the 16thIstanbul Biennial of the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts. 


The opening reception for the exhibition will be held on September 9, 2019, between 19:00-21:00 at ISTANBUL’74 Suleyman Seba St. No: 1-3. The reception is open to the public.


Inspired by Istanbul and Bosporus, the exhibition is named “ISTHMUS” which means “a strip of land with the sea on either side, forming a link between two larger areas of land.”  “ISTHMUS” will consist of Parlá’s new works on paper and paintings, as well as ceramics produced in collaboration with the established ceramics company Gorbon, whose approach to design is rooted in traditional Turkish handicrafts.


Parlá describes his process as “imagining what calligraphy from my part of the world could look like and represent to future generations” and his concept of ISTHMUS signifies the calligraphic mode of image production as a means of cultural expression. Istanbul is a strip of land connecting two continents, Asia and Europe, physically. For Parlá, symbolically, and metaphorically the city also becomes a bridge uniting Eastern and Western cultures.


The artist presents references to the calligraphic tradition and memory of the city whose history spans millennia, drawing inspiration from renowned museums and collections such as the Sabancı University Sakıp Sabancı Museum. 


José Parlá adopts an expressionist approach based on improvised movement in his works where he uses multiple layers by incorporating various found materials from daily life in his compositions. This is a reflection of the research-based approach to “urban environments” that the artist has been foregrounding in his work. Some of his pieces featuring the “living textures” of the global cities he visits are part of the collections of such reputable institutions as British Museum and the National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana, Cuba.


José Parlá gained international acclaim for his monumental mural “ONE: Union of the Senses” produced for One World Trade Center, the main building of the rebuilt World Trade Center complex in New York, and the largest canvas painting of its kind in the tallest building of the Western Hemisphere. 


In an interview, Parlá describes his abstract language with the following words: “Calligraphy has the gesture of the human body within its poetic movement, and although it can be literal, it can also be a form of abstraction. Contributing to American street writing sub-culture, I wanted to create a universal style that could be compared to traditional calligraphies from around the globe. This helped me to imagine how I could incorporate the gesture of a passerby into my paintings that would tear an advertising poster or write a political message on a wall.”


José Parlá has emerged in the past decade as one of his generation’s most fervent champions of painting, working for more than twenty years to establish a style of painting that transforms the language of the street into a hybrid form of abstraction and urban realism. From the outset, Parlá has sought to interpret his experience of cities that have served as crossroads in his life, from Miami to Brooklyn, San Juan to Havana, London to Tokyo, Istanbul to Hong Kong as a central theme in his work, while purposefully engaging with the rich history of painting since the rise of abstraction in the 1950s. His work provides markers of time, and is about the accumulation of information that settles like accretions upon the surfaces of walls and streets, and in the lines on the hands and faces of the people who inhabit them.