Closing today after a four week run, Phosphene is José Parlá’s second show at Ben Brown Fine Art’s London location. The title references the phenomenon of seeing light without any external stimulus and the exhibition features 11 large scale canvases infused with kinetic and sensory energy.

For many, graffiti is a means to exist beyond the corporeal and social confinement of our current circumstances and the now Brooklyn-based artist’s Ease tag was like a visual mantra repeated across south Miami in search of personal perfection. His balletic hand-style is still a foundational element of his work but as his practice has developed it has been turned and used as a tool to instead create work centred upon community and society. This particular body of work is the fourth and final in a series of works which have followed Parlá’s near fatal hospitalisation after contracting COVID-19 and there is a strong thematic focus on healing and rebirth. The work undoubtedly deals with his own personal journey as he recovered from the mental and physical atrophy caused by three months in a coma, but it also operates on multiple different levels and deals with the urgent need for us as a society to rebuild our failing political, economic and societal infrastructure. As such, Parlá’s work occupies a liminal space somewhere between the street and the museum, between the personal and the communal, between life and death. 

The exhibition’s focus on rebirth is underpinned by a rich array of artistic, scientific and civic associations within the canvases. Chromatically, the works share the same fiery spectrum of colors we see when lava-flows cool to form new land but it also brings to mind the palette employed by William Blake to depict the creation of the Earth in The Ancient of Days. In terms of their form, the works still appear to contain a subtle allusion to the landscapes of Anselm Kiefer which explored the rebuilding of society – Parlá’s cursive mark-making is suggestive of the elegantly simple early cloud chamber photography which captured anti-matter, the elusive but essential building block of the universe. The Cuban-American artist’s calligraphy glides across the surface of these Phosphene works, disappearing behind one layer of acrylic only to re-emerge from behind another with a grace and penetration which suggests the paintbrush is passing through time and drawn all together as one newly unified presence.

Photo credit: feralthings