José Parra is a young artist with an old soul. Ever a dreamer, he has managed to bridge that chasm between the old and the new in a language that is ecstatically of his own creation. His subject ideas about power versus fear, tradition versus novelty, royalty versus common, and reality as interpreted or transfigured by the glorious excesses of Baroque all contribute to his grand and complex paintings that mark the world as a stage waiting to be illuminated by grand costumes and props, yet peopled by those actors who surround him in real life.
Early influences, outside of introspection and dreams as a child, include working in his father’s Tlaquepaque, México gallery surrounded by paintings and statuary deeply influenced by Spanish baroque decoration and reproductions. His fertile, inquisitive mind embraced that precursor school of Mannerism (1520 – 1580) that responded to the harmonious naturalism associated with artists such as daVinci, Raphael and early Michelangelo. It is this journey from the intelectual sophistication of Mannerism to the subsequent artificial excesses of the following Baroque period that brought Parra to his mature style.
The young José Parra combines his technical facility with drawing, brush, pigment and canvas with an infectious hunger for philosophy and the circles that at times fail to define a beginning and an end – the tangent between real and spiritual, seen and imagined, beginning and future or past. His paintings are rich in detail as though he painted them from life despite the very obvious fantasy of his floating ships, signature harlequins, and melting worlds.
Yet the vivid colorful costumes and completely disguise the tinge of sadness or disappointment of unfulfilled expectations. He is at his strongest in his panoramic paintings such as The Queen’s Caravan, The Last Great Voyage, and The Royal Fleet, yet he is also able to paint dramas of touching intimacy as in The False Clothing of Cleonte and the Frida Kahloesque The Queen of Harlequin Monkeys.
One of the aspects of José Parra’s paintings that makes his work so poignant in our contemporary world is his ability to take the viewer into another space, a place where we, the players in a mundane and chaotic world, can find at least momentary solace in transporting ourselves into his spaces of creative fantasy. And this is his goal: his paintings are not complete until we, the fortunate viewers, participate and at least temporarily fulfill those seemingly thwarted expectations. Here is a young and gifted artist to watch, an artist whose talent goes beyond the expected surface and invites us to dream.
Review by Grady Harp