Jose Parla – Haunch of Venison

Jose Parla - Haunch of Venison

Dislocation and the unfamiliar city.

José Parlá began his artistic career as a street artist. Once in possession of this fact, the resemblance of his canvases to palimpsestic city walls is apparent and his concrete ‘floor sculptures’ become recognisable as sections of fag-butt-strewn pavement. This exhibition at Haunch of Venison showcases work made in response to cities – Spain, Havana and a number of Indian locations are referenced, with the show culminating in a site-specific work made in London just days before the exhibition opened.

Parlá’s work is built in layers: Paint, plaster and enamel with found materials such as posters and newspaper, and crucially his own calligraphic writing. This densely layered, mostly indecipherable text substantiates the partial, ‘broken language’ to which the exhibition’s title refers.

Broken Language

Situationism and Guy Debord are cited as influences Parlá’s work. The practice of psychogeography, which in its playfulness is quite different to the earnest critique of the Spectacle the group latterly focused on, sits well with Parla’s practice. He adopts psychogeographic techniques such as using the map of one city to navigate another, to inform and collect material for his work.

His subjective representations of the city incorporate both objective and personal experience and share an affinity with the Situationist map, described by Simon Sadler as:

[an] overview of the city, reconstructed in the imagination, [which pieces] together an experience of space that [is] actually terrestrial, fragmented, subjective, temporal and cultural.’


This could be a description of Parlá’s paintings, which present cities as encounters, and offer personal ‘maps’ that incorporate the objective and subjective.

The way that narrative functions in Parla’s work is intriguing. In a literal sense, the language he refers to is clearly broken, his canvases are scrawled with layers of unreadable writing.

This is the aspect of his work that Parlá may be referring to when he says:

‘for most of my life I have experienced being in transition and migration. This feeling allows me to bring the broken languages of the global community and its conditions into the gallery.’

Rajasthan Night Drive

Parlá’s paintings display a plurality of fractured languages, creating a sense of dislocation akin to being in an unfamiliar city. Language may abound but that does not necessarily equal understanding. But Parla’s work also speaks to us through visual semantics, and I’m interested in where that meets the broken, transnational, fragmented, textual language he refers to.


Rajasthan Night Drive is instantly recognisable as a depiction of India. A large poster in Hindi and torn images of Bollywood stars are obvious clues, but it’s also the colours, the typefaces, the tiny signs.

Interestingly, the exhibitions titular work, created on site in response to the artist’s experience of London, does not offer an easy reading of place. More plaster is used to blank out the surface than in the other works, creating empty space where visual clues proliferate in other works. Walking around the gallery we recognise Havana and Rajasthan on sight, but London remains elusive.

José Parlá, Broken Language, 2012, © Artist Rights Society, New York.
José Parlá: Broken Language, 2013, Photo: Peter Mallet, Courtesy Haunch of Venison.
José Parlá: Broken Language, 2013, Photo: Peter Mallet, Courtesy Haunch of Venison.
José Parlá, Rajasthan Night Drive, 2012, © Artist Rights Society, New York.
José Parlá: Broken Language, 2013, Photo: Peter Mallet, Courtesy Haunch of Venison.

-Laura Purseglove

José Parlá: Broken Language is on display at Haunch of Venison from 8 February – 28 March 2013.