A Conversation with Kaws and José Parlá

Photo: Life and Times

José Parlá and KAWS. Two kindred spirits catapulted from the underground to the contemporary art world, still gaining international acclaim every passing year. Although, the work is vastly different, each man possesses a distinct visual language and an evolving maturation. Despite the polar influences, there’s one city they both call home – Brooklyn. Having recently exhibited in Los Angeles – José Parlá showing at OHWOW while KAWS was exhibiting at Honor Fraser- both artists experienced a homerun of sorts on the West Coast, but are happy to be back at headquarters in New York. We visited Parla’s Fort Greene studio to overhear the boys wax poetics on their roots, gardening, and the good ‘ol days. [Moderated by Jauretsi Saizarbitoria]

KAWS: LA was fun. That trip was a good one for both of us
Jose: We did celebrate! A lot of people came out to support us from all over the world.

KAWS: The last time we got to hang out like that, we were both in a show in Paris.
Jose: That was a few years ago, 2009?

KAWS: Yeah. It was a few years ago. It was a project Lance Armstrong did called Stages to benefit Live Strong with Emmanuel Perrotin.
Jose: If I really think about how we first met — I mean when we first gave each other a “what’s up” [nod] and shook hands — it was a long time ago in New Jersey.

KAWS: Paterson.
Jose: Paterson, New Jersey.

KAWS: Really?
Jose: I think so. We never really had the chance to hang out much in New York though. I think it was first in Tokyo and Paris.

KAWS: In New York, you don’t have to take a trip together to a bookshop. Whereas, in Paris, it’s like a destination. “Yo let’s go check out this thing.”
Jose: Yeah yeah. It’s like Brooklyn heads out in the world. We both sort of have a big connection with Japan.

KAWS: In the mid ’90s I was friends with Stash and Futura and those guys were frequently going to Japan. They were already collaborating with Nigo [of A Bathing Ape] and the guys at Hectic. I just wanted to go to Japan ever since I was little. Aside from wanting to be a ninja when you were a kid, it’s one of those things you would joke about. It just seemed so far from everything that was Jersey City or even Manhattan at the time. It’s inspiring and it made me want to work harder.
Jose: When I was a kid, I was into a Japanese animation called Mazinger Z. Growing up in Puerto Rico, that cartoon was translated into Spanish. I knew they were from Japan so it was the first thing to instill interest in Japanese culture. The drawing style was very good, so I guess that was a connection to art early on. When I got to the US, some of them were translated in English, but I already knew the storyline. I was a big fan of the manga stuff. Like you mentioned, ninja stuff too. By ‘97 I went to Japan with my friend Tomoko and Mike. The next year our friend Yutaman, organized underground art shows for my friends and I at the time under the name Ink-Heads. I remember I’d bump into you or Futura and Stash and we’d hang out or say what’s up in Tokyo. We were getting a lot of invitations and opportunities in Japan.

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