manifestation, 2019 (detail), Oil, oil stick, cotton thread and graphite on velvet, canvas, and linen © Oscar Murillo Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner

Oscar Murillo's Beautiful Process

New paintings created by the artist during lockdown in his hometown of La Paila, Colombia, are now on view at David Zwirner Paris.

by Laia Garcia-Furtado
Nov 13 2020, 1:55pm

manifestation, 2019 (detail), Oil, oil stick, cotton thread and graphite on velvet, canvas, and linen © Oscar Murillo Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner

The multidisciplinary artist Oscar Murillo has been busy. Earlier this year, David Zwirner presented etica y estetica, an off-site exhibition of new paintings in a church in his hometown of La Paila, Colombia, where he found himself during early quarantine. He had turned his studio into mutual-aid site, distributing food and other essential goods to the community. Meanwhile, his work hung at Parroquia Santa Barbara, an interesting exchange of the meaning of—and the need for—art, religion, and community during these times.

Now, a new group of exuberant new paintings are on view at David Zwirner’s Paris gallery. (The gallery recently had to close down because of new Covid-19 measures, but the work is available to view online.) Looking at these paintings, done on velvet and linen with a variety of mediums, one feels alive. The bright crimson red marks draw you in but then the cerulean blue takes over—a little hope they seem to signal to me. GARAGE talked to Murillo about the process of making work this summer, and what quarantine has changed in his practice.

"manifestation," 2019-2020, Oil, oil stick, cotton thread and graphite on velvet, canvas and linen © Oscar Murillo Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner

Did you decide to quarantine in La Paila or did the situation catch you there more or less accidentally?
I was in Bogotá working on an exhibition at the Museo de Arte de la Universidad Nacional when things began to shut down—I travelled to my hometown, La Paila, a few days before the national quarantine officially began. The lockdown measures were very strict, and it wasn’t possible to travel between cities. This way I was able to have space to continue to work over the following months.

At what point did you decide you wanted to convert your studio into a distribution center for essential goods to the community? 
This was a very natural and spontaneous step. The quarantine brought about in the region a total social collapse and a lack of the most basic necessities for many people. It was an obvious decision to me to attempt to mitigate this in the very limited way I could.  

How has your view of the work changed—if at all—during this whole quarantine period? 
Somehow everything has collapsed in itself in these last eight months. It has made me reflect on the last 10 years of my practice since finishing art school in 2010—making art, making work, traveling, thinking about art, researching—for 10 years. And 2020, it collapses everything. I was, in a way, stranded in the village where I grew up. There was no sense of despair. I think there was a resignation and a desire to be here. Also I have not lived here since I left the country. It was a very odd experience to make those works. It was liberating. It was full of fear, but also tremendously liberating to literally dive into a painting and start downloading that energy. That’s what I had here—I didn’t have any other means of production. Normally my means of production is very crude anyway, but here it was tremendously basic. But I am grateful for that because it becomes tremendously honest at the same time. I think this last body of work that will be shown in Paris, the reason why they are so exposed, so naked, so stripped, but also so strong and so bold, is perhaps precisely because there is nothing else—I am forced somehow—gladly in a way also in this sense of fear—to let go.

Installation view of Oscar Murillo: News at David Zwirner Paris, October 2020 © Oscar Murillo Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner

Have these past few months changed or shifted your approach to your practice in general?
Making work now in Colombia with such conditions, with those very defined structures and that kind of very basic set-up—and basic doesn’t mean negative, it actually means totally the opposite, I think basic means a very clear structure of working—it’s been amazing. I have not worked with this clarity, and with this simplicity, at least in the context of painting, since art school. I guess also that’s why I have the desire to think about the ‘10 year period’—when I was in school you were in the studio, you were making, there was nothing else to think about. Obviously, the world exists, and the world existed then—there were also issues. But yeah it’s been beautiful, it’s been a beautiful reality. When there is the ability again to move around freely and so on, in the years to come, I am not sure if I would have the desire to change very much.  

"manifestation," 2019-2020, Oil, oil stick, cotton thread and graphite on velvet, canvas and linen © Oscar Murillo Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner

Can you tell me about your David Zwirner Paris exhibition and the works which will be exhibited? 
The show in Paris is the first time the manifestation paintings made in Colombia during this time have been exhibited. The manifestation series is a body of work that ironically has been fully reinvigorated by being here in these circumstances. This kind of bare-bones structure has been very useful to discover the longevity of this body of paintings. This whole reality—this crisis—has been a great moment of reflection for many reasons in relationship to politics, the social, geography, nature and so on. But at the same time for artists, if the practice is one of isolation, of being in the studio, it becomes a very rich moment and a very rich time in which one can sit and develop the work with very little interruption

The sad element is for now at least, I will not be able to see those paintings in a show context. I was very much—physically almost—inside the process of making them in the studio, and that was a beautiful process. 

Oscar Murillo
David Zwirner