Artist returns from brink of death with series inspired by Detroit streetscapes

August 01, 2022, 10:00 PM

Downtown Detroit and the city beyond serve as inspiration for a New York artist's first body of work since a bout of Covid put him in a monthslong coma from which doctors did not expect he'd recover.


A post shared by José Parlá (@joseparla)

The New York Times this weekend covered New York-based José Parlá's lengthy journey to produce "Polarities," a series of seven abstract paintings currently on view at Library Street Collective.

Parlá, ... whose work is in the permanent collections of the Pérez Art Museum Miami, the National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana and the British Museum, first visited Detroit in 2006 not knowing anyone here, simply looking to walk around and take photographs. He returned in 2018, after meeting JJ and Anthony Curis, owners and founders of Library Street Collective, who invited him to witness the changes the city was working through. Parlá decided then to devote a body of work to Detroit, which probably would have debuted in 2020 if not for the pandemic. The idea was further waylaid when Parlá contracted Covid-19 in early 2021, becoming so ill that he was hospitalized, intubated, and put in an induced coma for three months. Halfway through, he suffered a stroke and significant brain bleeding. His doctors told his brother, Rey, they didn’t expect him to survive.

“It’s a miracle that I’m here talking to you,” Parlá, 49, told me last month.

The artist, who is of Cuban descent, draws from city streetcapes and finds "dignity in the accidents of time," the Times writes. One, titled "Detroit / La Habana," appears very much an artful depiction of the side of a weathered building — replete with faded graffiti, pealing paint, and a washed out flyer.

Memory and resurrection are both at front of mind here. On a weekday afternoon, the hum of construction drones steadily downtown, the rapid development of the last decade continuing to revive central Detroit from decades of bankruptcy and population flight. ... But just five miles east, entire neighborhoods remain pocked by abandoned homes and ruinous storefronts — tracts of lots distinguishable only by the height of their overgrown weeds. Stretches of its avenues bear scars of Detroit’s dispossession: crumbling brickwork, weatherworn concrete, sun-bleached advertisements seized in time.

... He has located these textures around the world — in the Bronx, New York; Naples, Italy; Havana — translating these degraded environments into deeply felt portraits of human movements.

The pieces will be downtown at 1274 Library St. through Aug. 24.

Read more:  New York Times

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