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June 24, 2014

JR & José Parlá: Wrinkles of the City

The Freewheeling Artists On How They Transformed the Streets of Havana

Artists and longtime collaborators José Parlá and JR traveled to Havana, Cuba for Wrinkles of the City, a global series of public art installations and expressionistic murals centered around enigmatic portraits of the residents in each metropolis, from Berlin to Shanghai. This leg acted as a homecoming for Brooklyn-based Parlá, whose own parents emigrated from Cuba to Miami where he was born. Commissioned by the 2012 Havana Biennale, today’s self-directed film captures the duo’s citywide project that ran from Old Havana to Vedado, offering both artists the opportunity to engage with a city that has profound personal resonance. “Using any kind of media to express myself has always been key to my work,” says the Paris-born, NYC-based JR. “I’m glad we made the film to better understand our journey through this fascinating place that is La Havana.”

You’re both multilingual expatriates with similar backgrounds—what impact does that have on your art?
José Parlá: JR’s work is a commentary that is sharing something positive with the present or with history. Working together as we have has been organic because we both think alike. If I can't make something happen, JR steps in, and if he can’t, then I communicate it. In Cuba we spoke Spanish, Portuguese, French and Japanese, inventing ways to share.

JR: José and I have that in common, we always feel language is not a barrier. I guess it’s because we speak with our own hands a lot. 

How does your work in one discipline inform the other?
JP: The stories of walls are the memories of society. If I use photography it is to document places and people that later inform my paintings as well, with regards to colors and the mood or history of a painting’s direction. When I paint very layered and large-scale calligraphic paintings, the language is informed by gestural, free-associative movements, which I think of as a dance that envelopes the work.

What’s your favorite highlight from the trip?
JP:
When we were making the largest wall work of the whole project, JR guided me from across a field while I was suspended on a crane. It was hard to see with the sun glaring in my eyes. We finished the whole thing and celebrated the whole night.

JR: The people we met, especially the couple who we photographed and pasted up. We stayed in touch with them and they have been such an inspiration to both of us.—Timothée Verrecchia

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Antonio Lopez: Disco Fashion

The Warholian Illustrator’s Flamboyant Life and Works Celebrated in New Show

From charcoal sketches of the swinging 60s, to sensuous watercolor illustrations and personality portraits, today’s series remembers New York’s irreverent wild child Antonio Lopez. A vibrant figure among Studio 54 circles, the Puerto Rican-born Bronx-raised Lopez first garnered attention with camped-up photographs of emerging artists and screen sirens including Jerry Hall, Grace Jones and Jessica Lange. Cultivating a surrealist, free-flowing drawing style, Lopez began making illustrations for master-couturist Charles James and advertising campaigns that appeared in Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and The New York Times displaying vivid silhouettes, Pop Art references and a bold eroticism. Antonio’s World just opened at Suzanne Geiss Company gallery in New York, presenting three decades of the iconoclast’s fine art and photography and the first comprehensive survey of his work. “I have been a fan of Antonio's work since I was a teenager and followed fashion," explains Geiss. “He drew freely from contemporary culture and art history, but at the same time forged a unique body of work.” A forthcoming monograph from Rizzoli, Antonio Lopez: Fashion, Art, Sex, and Disco, featuring unfinished sketches, Instamatic photos and contributions from close friend Bill Cunningham, and a MAC cosmetics collection paying homage to Lopez’s salacious use of color, signal the artist’s continuing relevance today. 

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Spotlight

Dali City

A Fusion of Contemporary Art and Mountain Tradition Erupts in China’s Cultural Haven

Nestled alongside China’s Erhai Lake in the dramatic Cangshan mountains, the ancient Dali City is the subject of this dreamy short by filmmaker Eric K. Yue and writer Zachary Mexico. An arts enclave in the province of Yunnan, Dali’s mellow charm has long lured a vibrant community of artisans, poets and wayfarers, including artist H.N. Han, whose personal art museum houses works by Roy Lichtenstein, and coffee purveyor Gong Jiaju, who painstakingly seals his boxes of aromatic beans with hot ruby-colored wax. Dali is also a rare center of Bai culture, a Sino-Tibetan community famed for its artisanal expertise and elegant architecture featuring upturned gables. According to Mexico, author of 2009’s China Underground, the residents “are living for the sake of living”—something that captivated him when he first traveled to Dali 12 years ago. Finding the tranquil pace especially conducive to creative thought, he frequently visits from his home in New York for writing sabbaticals. New York-based director Yue, visiting the country for the first time, found experimental ways to break the ice with the local community. “I found I couldn’t interact with people, so I did magic tricks to get them to like me,” he explains. “It’s a purely visual language—there are no boundaries with magic.” Next up, Yue and Mexico will collaborate on a series of films about Chinese youth culture with Forever Pictures. 

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