‘The idea of labour and work is at the heart of my practice’ (O. Murillo, quoted in ‘Hans Ulrich Obrist Interview with Oscar Murillo’, in Oscar Murillo: work, exh. cat., Rubell Family Collection/Contemporary Arts Foundation, Miami, 2012, p. 50).
With its frenetic composition of graffiti-like scrawls and abstracted scribbles, Oscar Murillo’s Untitled is a dynamic work from the artist’s early practice that encapsulates his fascination with materiality and process. Acclaimed for his large-format paintings, which exhibit a uniquely sculptural approach to space alongside a painterly vitality reminiscent of the gestural abstractions of the Abstract Expressionists, the influence of Murillo’s personal brand of material driven, ‘un-painterly abstraction’ has earned him a place in the 2015 International Art Exhibition at the 56th Venice Biennale. Bisected vertically and horizontally into a quartered grid, smudged and smeared with indigo pigment, alongside dirt from his studio floor, Untitled is a testament to the artist’s ‘desire to inhabit an environment where the multiple realities of that space, say, its materiality, its potential usages, its history, are all simultaneously active’ (O. Murillo, quoted in C. Wood, ‘Dirty Painting’, Mousse Magazine, no. 35, October 2012, p. 107). Although Murillo may execute a painting in a matter of hours, the process leading to its creation can take months; cut up and stitched together in different sections, folded, unfolded, left to assimilate studio debris, Murillo allows the environment of his studio to accumulate on his canvas. Recording the process of their making, Murillo sees his work as a permanent archive of his practice. ‘I don’t work on a painting with the goal of finishing it or having a complete and finished painting at the end of a work process’, the artist has explained, ‘The idea is to get through as much material as possible, and various materials go through various processes. In most parts there is this mark making that happens with a broomstick and oil paint. I make a bunch of those canvases, fold them in half, and put them on the floor. My studio is a cradle of dust and dirt, of pollution. I don’t tidy up at the end of each production process. It’s all very much on purpose; it’s continuous process, a machine of which I’m the catalyst. Things get moved around, I step on them, and they get contaminated. It’s not about leaving traces, it’s about letting things mature on their own’ (O. Murillo, quoted in L. Russell, ‘Oscar Murillo’, in BOMB Magazine, http://bombmagazine.org/article/6921/oscar-murillo [accessed 15th May 2015]). Born in Colombia – where he is currently the subject of his first solo museum show in South America at the Museo de Art de la Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá – but brought up in London, Murillo’s work explores concepts of distance, dislocation and the meaning of community. The passage of material from studio floor to canvas marks the artist’s concern with his cross-cultural heritage and wider social themes of migration and displacement. While his work has drawn comparisons with Cy Twombly’s schismatic gestures, Murillo has expressed admiration for Leon Golub and Dieter Roth, artists who, for him, have obliterated the canvas and lived through their work. Out of their legacy, in works like Untitled, Murillo constructs a new painting that addresses the ephemera and transience of the modern world.