Published  27/09/2013

Happy to scuff your floors for you, Murillo

Happy to scuff your floors for you, Murillo

If I was to draw a line, this journey started approximately 400km north of the equator is the title of Oscar Murillo’s exhibition at the South London Gallery, his first major solo show in the UK

South London Gallery
20 September – 1 December 2013


Born in 1986, 400km from the equator, in La Paila, Colombia, Murillo, cleaned offices to pay his way through Westminster University and the Royal College of Art. This is a glib way of saying he worked harder than most of us can imagine, getting up at 4.30am to earn money1, Murillo would then start his day at college by 8am.

Graduating from the RCA painting department in 2012, Murillo is, even at the beginning of his career, some kind of legend. Katya Kazakina, in an online review for Bloomberg,2 tells us that London-based dealer Kenny Schachter believes Murillo has “had the quickest upward trajectory for his age of any artist I’ve seen in 25 years,” adding: “There’s a lot of money to be made trading Oscar Murillo at this point.” This might account for why, when I was tripping round Murillo’s floor works at the press view, a fragrant-smelling Spaniard photographing work with his red-leather-bound iPad approached and asked: “Are the floor pieces for sale?” He then ground his elegantly clad foot into one of Murillo’s folded floor canvases, exclaiming: “I want to leave my mark there.” I wished I had responded, “I rather think that’s the point, Money Bags!” since it is probably fair to say that Murillo now has us performing and playing for him, and the art world is buzzing with the energy of his game. Murillo, it has been pointed out, bears some physical resemblance to Jean-Michel Basquiat,3 the hair, the youth, the racially complicated positioning. But Murillo is a very different kettle of corn (his SLG installation includes a lot of raw and cooked corn), while employing us to scuff his flooring, for him to use as material in later exhibitions, we are directed in his Factory.4 . Long may his trajectory remain under his jurisdiction and his physical fitness (he played junior football for Arsenal), keep him abreast of this heady monster that is his extraordinary career.

Now can we please quiet down and look at the work. Murillo’s huge and physically enveloping canvases (seen at Art Basel 20135), echo familiar threads through contemporary fine art painting practice – the energetic gestures and scribblings of Cy Twombly, the haptic scruffs and mixing of materials of Antoni Tàpies and Anselm Kiefer, the calling out (in script) of Colin McCahon6 and the drawing, foodstuffs and performances of Joseph Beuys and William Pope.L.7

However, in Murillo’s “resourceful”8 SLG exhibition, just one single patched black canvas hangs ragged on the wall, while the installation is largely made from the materials used in previous exhibitions. Murillo’s copper flooring from Art Basel becomes tabletops, and previous works now pulped into paper are mushed into the canvas-strewn floor. There are also various tantalisingly tactile canvas and hardboard scribblings, folded and laid on the floor for us to tread on. Murillo’s relish in messing and manoeuvring stuff is palpable, and so is the unease of the commerce of his work – why and how we value stuff, and issues of authorship. In Lottery (2013) and Ramón, how was trade today? Have a break … Sit! Enjoy the food, but you’re not welcomed at the table (2013), Murillo plays us in a game of greed and guilt, tempting us to buy his painted Lottery tickets at £2,500 each, and then showing us Ramón, a lottery-ticket seller tramping the streets all day long for a sale or two. Murillo’s line around the wall, in food wrappers and other scuffed notes and images, traces a narrative from the roots of his childhood. Not such a sweet memory bell as Proust’s madeleine, yet eminently resourceful and rooted in a strong, resilient sense of survival. So as the corn stuff begins to ferment on the tables and in the industrial-sized pots and buckets, we should be careful when we visit Murillo’s SLG show. We may find the flies are on us.


1. Fernán Martinez. Clean Art. Oscar Murillo: the cleanest path from La Paila to London. Poder 360°. December 2012.

2. Katya Kazakina. Oscar Murillo Mints Money With Scribbles, Dirt, Food. Bloomberg, 18 September 2013.


4. Andy Warhol’s legacy lives on in the factory of fame. Alex Needham, the Guardian, 22 February 2012. “The Factory blended people from different backgrounds in a kind of social experiment.” Stuart Comer (Tate Modern Curator)

5. Art Basel 2013 Press Images.

6. Colin McCahon.

7. William Pope L. Art Tattler International.

8. Legacy Russell. Bomb 122. Winter 2013 “I like to work with things that are—I wouldn’t say necessarily always around me, but I like to be resourceful

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