- Oscar Murillo
- oil, oilstick, Xerox, tissue paper, masking tape, thread and collage on paper, in artist's frames, in seven parts
The eye is naturally drawn to the highly contrasted numbers and grafitti-esque scrawls in the present work which emanate from the chaotic fervour of the background. Murillo is interested in the aesthetic structure and formal qualities of writing and the swirling ribbons of white, blue and green particularly recall Cy Twombly's revered Blackboard series which observe a similar ambition. However, Murillo’s gestural marks are closely entwined with his personal history and when the works are hung in series, Murillo forces the component pieces to be reconsidered as a whole, allowing for a broader dialogue about race, culture and the nature of materials to emerge from the interlaced conceptual underpinnings of the individual elements.
When Murillo talks of the small mountain-side town of La Paila in South East Columbia where he grew up, he recalls the prevalent local industry of sugar cane production as a "very hands-on labour industry", continuing “I grew up with tactile materials, building things and being tactile with objects. When I came to London there was an astonishing cultural displacement. Everything was completely different" (Oscar Murillo in conversation with Hans-Ulrich Obrist, in: Exhibition Catalogue, Miami, The Rubell Family Collection, Oscar Murillo: Work, 2012-13, p. 40). Murillo found work in London as a cleaner at the Swiss RE building, affectionately known as the Gherkin skyscraper, where he and an army of other Colombians would embark on the Sisyphean task of working on the offices whilst the city-workers slept. Murillo began to incorporate the tools of his trade into his process of art production and so in his experiments with artistic gesture, Murillo detached the broomstick from its conventional role as cleaning product, instead appropriating it as an instrument with which he could form, with some irony, winding, disorderly, tactile marks amongst the chaotic pollution of his studio floor.
Numbers appear in the present work and throughout Murillo’s oeuvre as a symbolic homage to the artist’s heritage, recalling the provincial cultures in La Paila where the locals regularly gather to play bingo. Forming the cardinal social event for many in Murillo’s hometown, Bingo acts as a catalyst for gossip, dancing and story-telling throughout the night. Indeed Murillo has become renowned for recreating these significant events, inviting his friends and family to throw raucous parties in chic art-related locations worldwide that incorporate Colombian food, music, dancing and of course bingo. In the present work, the saturated colours and heavy application of paint reveal this abruptness with which Murillo transposes culturally rich symbols and events into the West; he withholds any sentiment or coercive gesture and instead allows the viewer’s response to this imposition to speak for itself.
Like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Murillo therefore highlights meaningful nuances which are personal to his history and culture simply by exposing them on the global platform of the art scene. However, his proclivity for integrating the debris of his studio into his laborious production method gives his works their own history so that they transcend the mere representation of an ideal; instead, they embody the actual experiences of displacement, nostalgia and multi-culturalism encountered by the artist.