- Oscar Murillo
- Night Shift
- oil, oilstick, graphite and dirt on canvas
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2014
Powerfully juxtaposing a monochrome black segment, chequered squares, and frenzied marks scribbled in an all-over composition, Night Shift is an exceptionally expressive and dynamic painting by Colombian artist Oscar Murillo. Immediately transferring the urgency and relentless energy that informs the artist’s practice, the present work explores the aesthetic and conceptual interspersion of raw materials, half-finished painting and detritus that accumulate on the work’s surface during the process of creation. By obliterating the dichotomy between artistic practice and daily life, Murillo’s paintings capture the unique atmosphere of specific moments in time, archiving the interaction between the artist and his materials and deliberately incorporating elements of chance that are absorbed by the material while lying on the studio floor. The result is a highly distinctive aesthetic that is suffused by the notion of performative action to explore the material tradition of painting.
With the canvas bisected vertically and horizontally, in the present work Murillo has sewn the canvas into irregular, quartered grids. The eye is naturally drawn to the highly contrasted, crossed-out number and the grafitti-esque scrawls which emanate from the chaotic fervour of the background. In an attempt to disrupt any form of preconceived rationale via minimalist, black-and-white squares, Murillo passionately works through the canvas by scribbling, drawing, painting, smudging, erasing, and smearing all over the surface. In Night Shift, the result is a mesmerising visual juxtaposition of figuration and abstraction encompassing wild and energetic all-over scribbles, reminiscent of those found in the work of Cy Twombly. This dynamic and highly improvised approach evokes the chaos, frenzy, and improvisation that lies at the very foundation of Murillo’s practice. The performative act of painting, a non-discriminative approach to whatever material and medium suits the impetus of the artist’s creative urge at a given moment in time, strongly recalls the practice of artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat. Both Murillo and Basquiat use urban and quotidian life as a starting point and their works reflect a myriad of references ranging from music, literature, and art history. Reflecting on Murillo’s hybrid practice, critic Jonathan P. Watts aptly observed: “It is in this sense that we can think of Murillo’s paintings as a ‘permanent archive’, multi-layered indexes of sorts, carrying ambiences of specific studios, and memories of performances and events” (Jonathan P. Watts, ‘The Presence of Work’, in: Exh. Cat., Miami, Rubell Family Collection/Contemporary Arts Foundation, Oscar Murillo: work, 2012-13, p. 22).
Murillo’s artistic practice is deeply intertwined with his origins growing up in the small mountain-side town of La Paila in South East Columbia. Rather than being exposed to a traditional Western art education, Murillo appropriated his experiences from the streets, the local industry of sugar cane production as well as encounters with his family and friends, all of which have provided a strong catalyst to explore the conjunction of different materials and mediums. When moving to London, the artist encountered an entirely different culture yet remained closely linked to his origins. Working as a cleaner at night in office buildings in the City of London alongside fellow Colombians, Murillo began to incorporate the tools of his trade into his process of art production. For example, Murillo detached a 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. The title of the present work, Night Shift, is evocative of these early days working at night as a cleaner while simultaneously hinting towards Murillo’s tireless working ethos. Often spending the nights in his studio indefatigably reading, painting, and experimenting, Murillo’s excessive working practice is somewhat reminiscent of Louise Bourgeois, in particular her Insomnia Drawings created at night time and in the early hours of dawn. In both cases, the creative output is evidence of a kind of incredible creativity fueled by wakeful anxiety.
Converging and uniting a wide, almost discordant array of painterly elements and materials, Night Shift is an artistic tour de force that exudes lived history. By transcending the notions of a specific medium or artistic style, Murillo instead creates paintings of distinctive personal aura that embody and reflect upon the artist’s own experiences, encounters, and thoughts.