Oscar Murillo: Colombian Roots & Cultural Evaluation

Traditional, Hispanic-born and raised in a Catholic country parents are not the best audience to announce one wants to become an artist. Especially if your initial plan is to clean office buildings to pay for art school and support your family. However, Oscar Murillo overcame the obstacles and prejudices every new artist faces and ended up proving to his family and the world that unusual visions go a long way in the art industry. Let an artist be and he can go from cleaning offices to having art pieces worth around $400,000.

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Murillo’s art has become everything but traditional. He experiments with a wide range of media and techniques where he includes painting, printmaking, sculpture, installation, video and events that get people to do specific artistic activities. He has been known for using random objects from his studio and trying to recycle items that could merge with his piece and have an artistic outcome. This recycling includes raw material, wrappers, broken fragments, and even studio debris such as dirt and dust.

The artist moved from Colombia to London when he was only 10 years old. Experiencing different cultures, people and languages not only shaped Murillo’s life, but it has also influenced his current artistic vision. “Life was very lonely. It was an astonishing cultural displacement,” Murillo said, during an interview with The New York Times.

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Even though many artists have been influenced by life experiences, Murillo brings together artistic pieces and concepts that are filled with political charge. He exposes distinct social situations and the complexities across racial and cultural boundaries. Every artist has a vision behind a creation, but Murillo has a very strong meaning behind everything he creates. In some cases, is so unique that it drives you to see art everywhere and in the most unexpected things. He’s had exhibits that invited people to play bingo, do yoga, and he has recently exposed the most delicious and tempting art exhibit out there – a functional chocolate factory inside an art gallery.

Though it seems random, the decision to includde a chocolate factory comes from Murillo’s personal history. The artist’s parents used to work at one of the biggest chocolate factories in Colombia called “La Colombina.” Murillo brought 13 factory workers, all friends and family from Colombia, and installed a mini chocolate factory inside the David Zwirner’s Art Gallery in New York City. The exhibit’s title is A Mercantile Novel. No traditional art was on display at the gallery. Yes, you read that right! There were no paintings, sculptures, or prints made by Murillo. Only the chocolate factory, which produced, packaged and presented hundreds of chocolate covered marshmallows. The main goal of this peculiar art exhibition was to serve as a statement about immigration and to show the artist’s experiences while growing up.
“The contents of the factory are secondary. What I’m really interested in is the journey, with social mobility being at the heart of the thing. The workers from Colombia have never been to New York before. I want to see how they respond socially. Then there’s the semi-interaction with the art audience. That’s a friction I’m also interested in. To me, this is the most profound reflection of what my life has been,” Murillo told Details magazine.
We are never allowed to touch or take anything from art galleries. In the case of this last exhibit, “art” leaves the gallery every day. And according to the artist, that becomes more about the social interactions people have while sharing chocolate as little pieces of art. Murillo cares about the interactions outside the gallery and democratizing art. “Those who visit the exhibition are invited to share the candy they take with others throughout the five boroughs and beyond,” Murillo said to Flash Art magazine.

osc2Most of Murillo’s art pieces and exhibits are thought-provoking. Some may consider them pointless or too surrealistic. But others love his abstract paintings and unusual concepts, and find it uniquely smart. He has even gained the title of “the 21st century Basquiat,” (the 20th century American artist who revolutionized graffiti art and abstracts). “I don’t feel as though I’m part on any artist community,” said Murillo to The New York Times. And many people might agree with that by only looking at some of his witty titles and huge canvases that portray rough lines and colors that include random text. “For a while, perhaps more so than painting, I have been involved in developing projects in the realm of cultural re-contextualization or cultural evaluation,” Murillo said to Flash Art magazine. Oscar Murillo has gained attention that new artists could only dream-off and he has managed to create new art concepts that go beyond traditional artistic visions and explore more contemporary politics, culture, and social distinctions.

-Sara Cuevas