David Zwirner is pleased to present News, an exhibition of new paintings by Oscar Murillo, on view at the gallery’s Paris location. Made while he was under quarantine in Colombia in the spring and summer of 2020, these works respond to the fraught social and political landscape within which they were created, while further developing ongoing subjects of concern for the artist. The heightened formal and visual intensity of these paintings represents a point of departure in Murillo’s art that speaks to the anxieties and conditions of the present moment with newfound urgency.
In March 2020 when COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organisation, Murillo was in Bogotá, Colombia, preparing for a solo museum exhibition. As countries worldwide began closing their borders, Murillo returned to his hometown of La Paila, in the country’s southwest Valle del Cauca, just days before strict mandatory isolation measures banned travel between cities. Over the following months, Murillo worked to produce a new body of paintings that allude to growing political unrest, both in the local context of Colombia and throughout the world.
The resultant paintings are among the largest and most elaborate in the artist’s ongoing series, works from which were most recently on view in the exhibition Oscar Murillo: Social Altitude at the Aspen Art Museum (2019–2020). Characterised by dense and almost aggressive bursts of colour, including broad swaths of vivid cerulean blue and fiery red, the large-scale paintings are created in a manner which the artist has described as a physical release or discharge of energy from the body. The works encapsulate Murillo’s engagement with process, containing within them a history of his studio practice. Murillo sews together fragments of earlier canvases, as well as other materials such as velvet and linen, and paints onto the amalgamated surface, creating a collage effect that highlights the contrasting energies of each painted plane.
Murillo moreover incorporates segments of deep red and indigo derived from the deeply saturated ‘ink-pad’ canvases the artist developed in 2011 for his catalyst series, which involved using a stick or broom handle to transfer marks from the pigmented surface to another canvas in an explosively energetic, full-body mark-making process. Playing with the notion of signification and the creation of meaning, the series features repeated letters or words which Murillo paints and then eradicates, leaving a barely visible trace. The words ‘power’, ‘law’, and ‘news’ appear partially obliterated in several of Murillo’s new paintings, suggesting a resistance to systems of authority, as well as layers of concealed, illegible information or perhaps a presence in the back of one’s mind that is impossible to ignore.
For Murillo, the idea of physical presence and gesture in painting is connected to the act of using one’s body to demonstrate dissent in the face of power. In fact, the term manifestation is commonly used in several languages to describe a political protest. The presentation of this series has often exceeded the traditional limitations of the gallery wall, such as in Oscar Murillo: Horizontal Darkness in Search of Solidarity (2019–2020) at the Kunstverein in Hamburg, where the works formed part of an agora-like seating arena. This immersive installation was the venue for a series of talks, discussions, performances, and working sessions centred around working forms of transnational support, an environment for manifesting solidarity that reimagined the paintings as catalysts for political practices. Continuing the artist’s investigation of painting as a medium for debate and discourse, the new paintings challenge the manipulations and obfuscations of meaning that proliferate in our era of accelerated communication. Through the transformation and obliteration of language, Murillo demonstrates the possibilities for new meanings and narratives to emerge.
Born in Colombia and based in various locations, Oscar Murillo (b. 1986) is known for an inventive and itinerant practice that encompasses paintings, works on paper, sculptures, installations, actions, live events, collaborative projects, and videos. Taken as a whole, his body of work demonstrates a sustained emphasis on the notion of cultural exchange and the multiple ways in which ideas, languages, and even everyday items are displaced, circulated, and increasingly intermingled. Murillo’s work conveys a nuanced understanding of the specific conditions of globalisation and its attendant state of flux, while maintaining the universality of human experience.
Murillo 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 one- and two-person exhibitions at prominent institutions worldwide, most recently at the Aspen Art Museum (2019–2020); Kunstverein in Hamburg (2019–2020); Kettle’s Yard at the University of Cambridge, England (2019); The Shed, New York (2019); chi K11 art museum, Shanghai (2019); Haus der Kunst, Munich (2017); CAPC musée d’art contemporain de Bordeaux (2017); and Jeu de Paume, Paris (2017). As the winner of the Turner Prize 2019, awarded for the first time in its history to a collective of all four nominees, Murillo presented his work at Turner Contemporary in Margate, England (2019–2020). Murillo’s work was also featured in the 2018 Berlin Biennale, We don’t need another hero.
Murillo has been represented by David Zwirner since 2013. This is his sixth solo exhibition with the gallery.
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Image: Oscar Murillo, 2020. Photo by Julian Valderrama