José Parlá | National YoungArts Foundation’s new animated short takes flight with help from KAWS and Shepard Fairey

Kelsey Ables for The Washington Post

When the National YoungArts Foundation asked Brooklyn-based artist José Parlá to contribute an image of a bird to an upcoming collaborative film, Parlá went for a seemingly unremarkable one: the house sparrow. Perched on a bench beside a Midtown businessperson or hopping on the curb alongside a SoHo shopper, the small brown bird is as ubiquitous in New York City as the sound of sirens. They leave no surface untouched and no city dweller alone.


Parlá, who draws inspiration from the city he has lived in for 25 years, sees the bird as a representation of the people. For the film, "Together," he renders one in swift, calligraphic brushstrokes - as unique as a signature and as anonymous as a scribble.


Set to debut on the YoungArts website on Monday at 8 p.m., "Together" features work by 18 artists, who were each commissioned to create a bird. The works - polymer clay, embroidery on canvas, paintings - have been animated by Igor + Valentine. The final product, a four-minute-long short, is a collage of moving images set to meditative music by YoungArts alumna Nora Kroll Rosenbaum.


"Together" boasts contributions from big-name artists like art-market star KAWS and Shepard Fairey - of Barack Obama "Hope" poster fame - both supporters of YoungArts. Fairey's contribution, a brown thrasher rendered in red ink, has his signature street-inspired wheatpaste look, and KAWS's bird is immediately recognizable for its X-ed out eyes. But with an eclectic array of contributions - there is a cartoony, triangular bird by Isabela Dos Santos and a more abstract creation from Sheree Hovsepian - the video is less about individual artists standing out than it is about mixing disparate artistic styles. Bringing artists together that you would be unlikely to see congregated in a single gallery - let alone on the same canvas - the video is born of experimentation necessitated by a covid-19 world. YoungArts says it is meant as a message of solidarity and interconnectedness. And at an arts-starved moment, it's a visual treat.

January 24, 2021