Interview with Oscar Murillo: at home with the Rubells
The 26-year-old artist on what it was like to live and work at the Miami collectors’ private museum this summer
By Ermanno Rivetti. Web only
Published online: 06 December 2012
The Colombian-born, London-based artist Oscar Murillo, 26, gained attention while he was still completing his painting MA at London’s Royal College of Art. A recently graduate, he is presenting a show of new work at the Rubell Family Collection in Miami. Murillo spent several weeks living at the Rubells’s museum, producing a number of large-scale works, five of which will be exhibited on-site. Murillo talked to The Art Newspaper about his forthcoming show, his two-pronged approach to making art, and the effects of growing up without video games.
The Art Newspaper: How did you meet the Rubell family?
Oscar Murillo: They saw a solo project I did with Stuart Shave/Modern Art at the Independent fair last March in New York, and they were curious to know more about what I do. At the time, I was living in the city so they came to the studio. I knew who they were but I hadn’t met them before. However, they were interested enough to offer me an exhibition.
You are the first artist to have had a residency at the collection.
It’s a kind of residency but it’s not something that [the Rubells] do as collectors—they did it to facilitate my project. I said that I needed to work in situ in order to make something on a large scale. The museum closes in the summer, so it was the perfect opportunity to go there and make the show happen.
What was the set-up like? Were you given any rules to follow?
It wasn’t like a commission—I was never told “we want this type of work”, but I knew I was going to have a show in that space and there were certain things I wanted to focus on. However, there was enough time to treat the space as a studio and not assume that certain works were going to be shown. My living quarters were linked to the museum so, if I wanted to, I could wake up at 2am and have access to it. Despite the fact that they—the Rubells, the museum staff—had seen my work, they were still relatively new to what I do, so this project was something of a leap of faith for them.
Have you worked on this kind of scale before?
No. This was the perfect opportunity to challenge myself.
Were you assisted by anyone while you were there?
Juan Roselione-Valadez, the director of the museum, was great, for many reasons. He looked after me and sourced the materials that I needed, but we also had very interesting conversations about the work as it developed.
You like to incorporate certain words into your paintings.
Certain words are often connected to a type of social endeavour that I like to bring into the realm of my own practice.
You once said that your paintings are “permanent archives or reminders of what else happens in the practice”. What did you mean by that?
When I spoke of the wider aspect of my practice, I was referring to my performances. Some of my paintings contain abstracted words—“chorizo”, “yoga”, “mango”—but the performances create context for them. For example, prior to the performance at the Serpentine [Gallery, in London] earlier this year, I was invited by Comme de Garçons to do a campaign for their new season. They used five images of previous paintings of mine and gave me £10,000. Their clothes are quite expensive and I could have bought a new wardrobe, but instead I invited members of my family to go to Dover Street Market in Mayfair, London, and attempt to buy some of these clothes, which are targeted at a certain kind of audience—my mother is not exactly eight stone. The trip became a cultural clash that I wanted to do something with. The project at the Serpentine was coming up so I called the performance “The Cleaners’ Late Summer Party with Comme des Garçons” and the idea was to invite a wide demographic of our society to participate. The performance was a party and Comme des Garçons became an anchor. It became something that you could win during the evening’s events: raffles, dance competitions, karaoke. The brand, which is usually very exclusive, became a democratised item. That was the idea.
I also did an event in Paris: a bourgeois birthday party where a similar kind of cultural clash happened. This time there were different Colombian foods there. I’ve also done two yoga-based performances. That’s where I got the idea of infusing the words into the paintings and that’s what I mean when I say they become archives. These paintings give me the opportunity to freeze the performances into the work. I mean, a painting is a rectangular device used to record things.
How did you become an artist?
I was never really an artist as a child. There’s no history of anyone in my family being an artist and I didn’t grow up around art at all. In Colombia I grew up outdoors, I played in building sites – I didn’t grow up with a Playstation. It was a very tangible existence and I was raised like that until I was ten. Then I moved to London. You might have found that same environment in post-war London, but in the mid 1990s it was totally different: there were so many safety buffers. It’s a very sanitised environment and so art became one of the only things that I could tap into to satisfy my desire for tangibility.
You say you didn’t have much art around when you were growing up, and that it was more of a physical existence, but this physicality is also central to your practice.
Exactly—the idea of obliterating or abusing material in a way that is kind of careless or primitive is something that I used to do to a piece of wood when I was a kid, for example.
This is an important show so early in your career—did you feel any pressure to perform?
Its hard to contextualise it now—nobody has even seen it. When the work was finished, I felt pretty satisfied with the results and I felt a moment of euphoria. But now I’m just interested in seeing the reaction of the public more than anything. There’s always pressure to perform. I could be naive and say I felt no pressure and that I treated it just like working in a studio, but I decided to go there and challenge myself. I feel this is a real opportunity; who knows, I might not get to make a seven-metre painting ever again, so it was the perfect moment. Everything was there and I wasn’t going to shy away from it.
”Oscar Murillo: Work” is at the Rubell Family Collection, Miami, until 2 August 2013
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