Oscar Murillo: Beyond the Build Up of Content and Information

Oscar Murillo, Emergent and upbeat , 2017–2018 (detail), © Oscar Murillo. Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, Hong Kong, New York, London
Oscar Murillo, Birds In multilateral action , 2016–2018 (detail), © Oscar Murillo. Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, Hong Kong, New York, London
Oscar Murillo, Human Resources, 2015-2016, © Oscar Murillo. Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, Hong Kong, New York, London
Installation view, Oscar Murillo, the build-up of content and information, David Zwirner Hong Kong, 2018. © Oscar Murillo. Courtesy David Zwirner, Hong Kong
Installation view, Oscar Murillo, the build-up of content and information, David Zwirner Hong Kong, 2018. © Oscar Murillo. Courtesy David Zwirner, Hong Kong
Oscar Murillo, Catalyst, 2017. David Zwirner Hong Kong, 2018. © Oscar Murillo. Courtesy David Zwirner, Hong Kong
Oscar Murillo, Violent Amnesia , 2014–2018 (detail), © Oscar Murillo. Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, Hong Kong, New York, London
Installation view, Oscar Murillo, the build-up of content and information, David Zwirner Hong Kong, 2018. © Oscar Murillo. Courtesy David Zwirner, Hong Kong
Oscar Murillo, Emergent and upbeat , 2017–2018 (detail), © Oscar Murillo. Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, Hong Kong, New York, London
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Deemed the “art market darling,” much buzz has been generated surrounding the rapid and  staggering rise of Oscar Murillo’s career, specifically the dramatic spike seen in the value of his artworks.  On the occasion of the opening of his first solo exhibition in Asia, The Build Up of Content and Information at David Zwirner Hong Kong, the artist speaks to us on the conceptualization of his work, process, and creative intentions.    

TEXT: Aaina Bhargava
IMAGES: Courtesy of David Zwirner and the artist

 

Oscar Murillo, Birds In multilateral action , 2016–2018 (detail), © Oscar Murillo. Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, Hong Kong, New York, London

 

Layers upon layers of fragmented materials, thick gestural strokes of impasto paint, and wildly erratic scribbled forms, all animated with intense bursts of colour, constitute a collaged aesthetic overwhelming even the largest of canvases. Encapsulating an impassioned, spirited vigour, Murillo’s paintings radiate a raw energy drawing viewers and evoking curiosity.      

Serving as a foundation for “the physical accumulation of time spent in motion, removed from all sense of place and in between time zones,” Murrilo’s canvases yield a literal build up of content and information consolidated over travel.  In a global context this extends itself to transnational movement in an era of globalization and the effect it has on individuals and the artist himself.  Born and raised in Colombia until the age of 10, when his family immigrated to the UK, Murillo who now lives and works in different locations, considers “transnational movement an integral part” of his practice, and ascribes flight as a source of inspiration during which creativity transpires.  The aeroplane becomes a site of production for his work where he amasses physical and conceptual material.  

…A space in limbo, a space in transition, which is a flight, or arriving in a place and accumulating things which become part of a painting through process.  In terms of collecting materials, we’re talking about iconography.”

 

Oscar Murillo, Human Resources, 2015-2016, © Oscar Murillo. Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, Hong Kong, New York, London

 

Iconography, specifically symbolic of financial dominance, is prevalent throughout the body of his work, making it particularly relevant to Hong Kong.  In Human Resources he incorporates the Hong Kong 100 dollar bill, layered under a blue and orange checkered print.  It was also included in an earlier work, HSBC Pork/Pashtuk, made after his first visit to the city.  He recalls being enamoured by the aesthetic of the currency,

“coming to Hong Kong for the first time four years ago, and seeing the 100 dollar bill with the marching band, seeing how beautiful it was, it made it’s way into the painting.” 

Often addressing class dynamics by alluding to socio-economic issues, the significance of Hong Kong as a financial center has an amplified effect in Murrilo’s narrative, and was visually reinforced during the mega typhoon that hit city just days before the opening.  

“With a place like Hong Kong you resign yourself to its reality. Of course it has all complexities to do with politics, streams of wealth and not, to do with its ignorance to the world.  For example it was so ironic to be in the Mandarin Oriental during the typhoon, to witness all these trees get mutilated, and then look up and see this tower that says Bank of America, there is nothing much more indicative than that of this condition, which in this weird way which comes through in an event like that.” In the context of aesthetics and in the context of symbolic representations, its far more powerful than you.  It is more than culture, it is a financial center.  So then how can you deal with that? How do you challenge that? At the end of the day its about trade and commerce.”   

 

Installation view, Oscar Murillo, the build-up of content and information, David Zwirner Hong Kong, 2018. © Oscar Murillo. Courtesy David Zwirner, Hong Kong

 

The act of challenging, confronting, and contending is firmly embedded in Murillo’s practice, both conceptually and aesthetically. The visual complexity formed by the multiplicity and overlay of materials challenges viewers to investigate and unpack a narrative.  On a more personal level, challenging himself to grow and evolve as an artist certainly seems to be a priority in the process of conceptualizing exhibitions.  In addition to this being his first solo show in Asia, it is also the first dedicated to painting.  Known for engaging with a multitude of mediums, particularly performance art and installations (often supplemented by or supplementing paintings), Murillo has now focused solely on painting.  Acknowledging the significance of growth and reinvention, especially after receiving overwhelming success early on, he directly addresses the question of sustaining a successful and evolving practice.   

“Why a painting show? For me right now in my practice, it would have been too easy to turn this gallery into a performative or installation based show, it would be too easy because I have the power to do so.  Some people were a little taken aback.  I thought about being antagonistic, but I have been antagonistic, and to be antagonistic again becomes conservative, so then this is more challenging for me.”

 

Installation view, Oscar Murillo, the build-up of content and information, David Zwirner Hong Kong, 2018. © Oscar Murillo. Courtesy David Zwirner, Hong Kong

 

This “antagonistic” intention, in the context of this exhibition and Murrilo’s practice, assumes the role of a cataylst, an agent initiating change through dialogue.  Visually this is aptly captured in Catalyst, a part of an entire series of paintings also entitled Catalyst.  A large red canvas is overrun by an intense continuing streak of blue spirals, with seemingly endless energy.  The notion of using “art as a catalyst” to produce cultural discourse steers Murillo to make gestures or events with a performative dimension that often supplement his art or form the very core of the work. Augmenting the show, and activating his “antagonistic” intent, he invited twenty five members of his family to accompany him to Hong Kong.  

“What makes this more antagonistic is to invite twenty five members of my family, who don’t belong here, staying at the Mandarin Oriental…Letting twenty five Colombians loose in Hong Kong…that’s just gestural and performative, it’s beyond art, more of a social experiment.”  

 

Oscar Murillo, Catalyst, 2017. David Zwirner Hong Kong, 2018. © Oscar Murillo. Courtesy David Zwirner, Hong Kong

 

It is the experimental, and somewhat provocative nature of these events or gestures which feed into his goal of creating dialogue,

I utilize those as viable means of engagement, it’s culture production.”       

This was particularly evident from the unforgettable incident he staged as a part of his contribution to the Sydney Biennale.  On the plane en route to Sydney, he tore up his British passport, posing the question, “what will happen if one cannot be identified?”  Even though he still had his Colombian passport, he was detained on arrival and deported to Singapore, as he could not enter Australia without a visa.  This obviously generated a lot of publicity, many assumed he intended to cause a spectacle.  However, unexpectedly, Murrilo’s motivation stemmed from discontentment  with being unable to fulfil the curatorial criteria. 

I think a lot of it started with my disappointment, and not putting together a good enough proposal for the biennale. Stephanie Rosenthal as a curator, was challenging, and posed the statement, ‘the future is here, but it’s not equally distributed.’  What do you do with that?  I was feeling frustrated, useless, and not being able to respond to this question adequately enough.  So I thought to create a jarring situation of entropy… its a kind of shamefulness, a sacrifice of sorts.  In the 90s when people would travel from Latin America, they would destroy their passports, so when they landed in the UK they were ‘non identifiable’ and had to be embraced under asylum conventions. I like things to get really close to life and reality, and to have a gut-ful experience.” 

 

Oscar Murillo, Violent Amnesia , 2014–2018 (detail), © Oscar Murillo. Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, Hong Kong, New York, London

 

The repercussions of this action were real and definite, more importantly they led to a series of events that stimulated discourse not only about politics and identity, but also about the ever expanding range of what constitutes art.  In the context of Murillo’s varied practice, the plane yet again became a significant site of production as it is where he performed the physical act of destroying his passport. From a drastic performative gesture as this, to drawing delicate works on paper (on display, encased in double sided glass frames), a range of works are created mid-flight. 

 

Installation view, Oscar Murillo, the build-up of content and information, David Zwirner Hong Kong, 2018. © Oscar Murillo. Courtesy David Zwirner, Hong Kong

 

Considering the breadth of Murillo’s practice and the mediums and materials he employs, the paintings featured in A Build Up of Content and Information, may seem to lack a conceptually provocative gestural dimension.  In holding a show dedicated to painting, Murillo seems to demonstrate a desire to challenge himself and evolve as an artist. The heavily layered collaged surfaces of his canvases emit an almost urgent energy, imploring and beckoning viewers to consider all the elements that compose the work,  presenting a channel for engagement.  It is a subtle sense of contention, but one that reflects a genuine intention to initiate and develop discourse highlighting the significance of “culture production” – the ultimate function of art.   

 

Oscar Murillo, Emergent and upbeat , 2017–2018 (detail), © Oscar Murillo. Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, Hong Kong, New York, London

 

 

Oscar Murillo - The Build Up of Content and Information
Currently on view, until Nov. 3rd.
David Zwirner, Hong Kong

 

 

About the Artist

Oscar Murillo (b. 1986) earned his BFA in 2007 from the University of Westminster, London, followed by his MFA in 2012 from the Royal College of Art, London. Murillo’s works and projects have been the subject of solo exhibitions at prominent institutions worldwide, most recently at Haus der Kunst, Munich, CAPC musée d’art contemporain de Bordeaux, and Jeu de Paume, Paris (all 2017). His work is currently on view in the 10th Berlin Biennale: We don’t need another hero (through September 9, 2018) and the 2nd Industrial Art Biennial: On the Shoulders of Fallen Giants in Croatia (through October 28, 2018). Murillo’s work has been represented by David Zwirner since 2013. This show is his fourth solo exhibition with the gallery.

 

Aaina is the editor of COBO, as well as a staff writer. With a background in art history and emphasis on contemporary art, she has experience working for a diverse range of local and international art institutions. She has previously contributed to Design Anthology, Artomity, Asian Art News, museeum.com, and the Artling’s online magazine.

 

 

 
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