Originally published on this is tomorrow, October 2013.
Oscar Murillo’s paintings are made of the detritus of performances and social situations. Whether they be small specks of dirt thrown up by mass skipping events or group yoga classes, the remnants of his socially-engaged practice become the stuff of his canvases. At the South London Gallery Murillo relocates the organised chaos of his studio space to the main gallery giving a sneak peek into his methods and techniques. We are invited to contribute to his process-led practice by walking over canvases strewn on the gallery floor, adding our own dirt and dust to the paintings of tomorrow.
Murillo’s starting point is his own Colombian culture. As a Colombian immigrant, he’s interested in the translation of that culture across borders, examining notions of transformation, commodification and authenticity. Amongst the dirt and abandoned sculptural experiments that contribute to the exhibition we find packaging from Colombian foodstuffs – cans of beans, cartons of coconut water, and even corn itself all manipulated and repurposed as sculptural materials. The playful nature of his practice is reflected elsewhere in ‘good times bad times fun times I-III’ (2013), three sculptures that resemble draughts boards with porcelain pre-Colombian vessels as their playing pieces.
Upstairs, in a room next door to a film that follows a man called Ramón as he hawks lottery tickets and attempts to blag himself a vehicle in Colombia, Murillo creates an art-world translation of the popular Colombian game. For the price of £2,500 he offers the chance to enter his own lottery, with prizes devised by him to be announced at a future date. Entry into this exclusive competition is a leap of faith as well as a public gesture of support since the entrant’s name is emblazoned on a ticket that is thereafter displayed as part of the show. To complete the circle of mixing social strata and conventions, Murillo invites his own family to the space to help manufacture the tickets. The work addresses notions of value, of class and intrinsically confronts the different public, private and commercial faces of the art world.
Murillo’s own acceptance into the art world has been whole-hearted. He completed his MFA at the Royal College of Art only last year, yet already he has had solo exhibitions in London, New York, Miami and Berlin, at prestigious public and private spaces. But the attention the artist has attracted has not only been critical acclaim. Murillo hit the headlines this year as his paintings smashed their estimates at auction and attracted a surge of bidding. The young artist’s work is very hot property.
Murillo’s exhibition at South London Gallery is a sensitive and exploratory response to his commercial success. With renewed confidence he folds up and abandons his paintings on the floor of the gallery, letting them take second place to new sculptural, video and event-based works. The only canvas that adorns the wall space is ‘night shift’ (2013) a jet-black painting that looms over us rather ominously as though designed to frustrate our viewing pleasure. For Murillo, the commercial clamour for his work seems to have offered another productive and interesting line of critical enquiry.