​Artist José Parlá reaches new heights

A former street artist, José Parlá's works are anything but Off The Wall. In fact, they can now be seen in many a high-profile location, including one of the very highest of all. Rita Braver reports:

It is one of the most symbolic buildings in the nation: the new One World Trade Center, rising resolutely after the devastation of September 11, 2001.

And what was chosen to greet visitors as they enter? A mural -- not about the attacks, but about moving forward. It's a mural about resilience.


From the beginning, artist José Parlá says he knew it had to be a powerful piece: "It's a mural about strength and unity. And I see it more about people coming together, like the diversity in New York City. So it celebrates New York."

Called "One: Union of the Senses," Parlá painted it in a sustained burst of impassioned creativity:

"Over the weeks and weeks and weeks painting it, I started to melt into it," he told Braver. "I started to feel like I was one with the canvas. There was a lot of energy and action in this painting. I was almost tasting the paint with my eyes and I was touching the paint with my ears."

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José Parlá at work on the World Trade Center mural in his Brooklyn studio.
© Jeff Goldberg/Esto/Courtesy Parla Studio

And the fact that Parlá was commissioned to paint this mural FOR a public building is slightly ironic, considering that his very first pieces were unauthorized works ON public spaces, in his hometown of Miami.

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Courtesy Parla Studios

He was just 10 years old when Parlá became part of what's now known as the Graffiti movement. He went by the nickname EASE.

He even did a piece for his mom for Mother's Day.

"What did your mother think, you go out and make her a piece on the wall?" asked Braver.

"You know, it was mixed feelings of emotion, 'cause she was, like, happy that I did something for her, but then scared that I could have gone to jail for it. And so she was going, like, 'You're gonna get in such trouble!'"

Parlá did get in plenty of mischief, but -- child of the hip hop generation -- he also had plenty of fun.

It was a high school teacher who spotted his talent, and helped him get a scholarship to Georgia's Savannah College of Art and Design when he was just 16.

To Parlá, the son of Cuban immigrants, "It was like winning the lottery, 'cause I didn't want to be in school any more. I basically showed up to history and art class. The rest I would skip!"

It is at his Brooklyn studio where he creates his huge canvases, which he says are direct descendants of his earlier graffiti works.

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The artist with correspondent Rita Braver.
CBS News

"Every so often I'm inspired to write the story of my life, and what's happening as if it was a diary," he said.

"But I can't read any of the words in here," said Braver.

"Well, that's exactly like a diary -- you're not meant to read someone else's diary. You know, it has a little lock and key. And it's more about reading the gesture and the layers of memory that's encapsulated within each layer."