Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2013
Squares of creased and crumpled canvas, stained by studio dirt and dust, and smeared with pigment and Twombly-esque scrawls, have here been stitched together like a patchwork quilt. An off-cut remnant of printed fabric occupies the top left-hand corner, foot-prints can be discerned within palimpsest-like layers of oil stick, spray paint and graphite, while clumps of detritus have come to rest atop the painting’s outermost epidermis. The result of months-worth of accumulated contamination and pictorial build-up, these paintings often find resolution in the addition of a final, and usually culturally-loaded, word. Bearing the inscription ‘Maiz’ in clear and rounded child-like letters, this painting invokes the oldest and most important crop grown in South America. Having been cultivated for more than 5000 years, corn is probably South America’s biggest agricultural export. Used as the key ingredient in staple Colombian dishes, such as tamales, empanadas, and arepas, corn is even used to make beer – the traditionally saliva-fermented chicha. Its bold linguistic presence in A Friday Night Village Village (Mazorca) performs a similar function to Murillo’s out of context ‘family parties’; the artist’s dislocation from his native Colombia is echoed in the symptomatic re-emergence of culturally-loaded language in his paintings. It serves to underscore a universal state of constant movement and displacement that characterises so much of contemporary life. As explained by the artist: “For me the words are very displaced. Like cultural displacement with performance, in painting it’s material displacement, object displacement… I also like to think that these paintings also imply a displacement of time. They’re like rugs. An unstretched painting is a kind of abstract thing, one that suggests that it perhaps has been found or comes from some other space or time. But while it has this aura of being a historical thing when placed out of context, it just comes from the studio” (Oscar Murillo in conversation with Legacy Russell, BOMB, No. 122, Winter 2013, online).
Reminiscent of Jean-Michel Basquiat and his irreverent (mis)treatment of the canvas and its virgin surface – works that famously preserve the artist’s footprints and possessed a self-conscious decrepitude even at the point of completion – Murillo invites the space of the studio into the work itself. His paintings are not precious; in one work he even goes as far as to invite the viewer to rifle through crumpled up piles of painted canvases lying loose in a heap on the gallery floor. Made using accumulated dust, dirt, and insouciant oilstick dry-brushed around the canvas using a broomstick – a vestige of Murillo’s oft-mentioned night-shifts as a cleaner in the City of London when he was working towards his Masters at the Royal College – the further displacement of these works into the homes of collectors and white-cubed galleries performs another Trojan-horse-style act of socially conscious cultural cross-pollination. Indeed, by including the word ‘Maiz’ in this painting, Murillo invokes the blue-collar labour and farming industry of his indigenous South America; aspects that have come to dominate recent major works such as the 2014 assembly line installation at David Zwirner in New York, A Mercantile Novel. For this ambitious piece, Murillo flew factory operatives in from Colombia and set up a working recreation of the chocolate factory in his hometown. At the gallery, viewers were able to witness the factory and its employees in operation, and were able to take away the individually foil-packed marshmallow chocolates straight from the assembly line.
Like Murillo and the performative, participatory, aspects of his work, his paintings carry with them a physical record of their own lived history. Entrenched in the memories of his home village of La Paila in South East Columbia, A Friday Night Village Village (Mazorca) merges artistic, social, and cultural signifiers with the detritus of a dislocated lived experience. The result is a work replete with nostalgia-tinged displacement – a visually striking repository of time, movement, and migration.
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