Max Lakin for Artforum

"It's Yours," José Parlá's solo exhibition of recent paintings here, took its name from Bronx rapper T La Rock's 1984 formative hip-hop single, a self-reflexive anthem that sets out the genre's parameters and its promise of democratic permissiveness. It was a good analogue for Parlá's practice, a style of Abstract Expressionism informed by both the energy of street life and the built environment of the street itself. Parlá, a tagger at heart (a selection of his early blackbooks are featured), works in what is sometimes called a postgraffiti mode but is probably better understood as gestural anthropology. As T La Rock prescribed, Parlá samples the very stuff of New York City, such as peeling paint, crumbling concrete, and oxidizing advertisements pasted one on top of another. In deteriorating, these ads achieve another life. To be clear, Parlá's point of reference isn't midtown. The artist's tracings are of the periphery: the outer boroughs' vast apartment blocks and corner bodegas-the parts of the city that can often seem to exist despite its ruthless cycles of neglect and gentrification. His visual language casts a devotional eye toward urban dilapidation and ephemerality; joy doesn't exist without suffering, and Parlá's work internalizes both. His large-scale paintings position the wall as living organism, their impasto surfaces and calligraphic gestures tracing the textures of neighborhoods that build up over time, dissolve, and recede into collective memory, evoking a full sweep of movements, both local and diasporic. They touch upon displacement, disenfranchisement, poverty, institutional racism, and a deeply felt sense of ownership, even if that ownership is more sentimental than deeded.

March 1, 2021