Oscar Murillo - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Saturday, November 24, 2018 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    Segmented into four discrete abstract zones that chime with centrifugal energy, Oscar Murillo’s Untitled deftly exhibits the defining features of the artist’s radical oeuvre. Here we see painting and drawing reduced to their most base and visceral components: the frenetic scrawl of raw oil stick on untreated canvas; the emphatic power of primary colours; and the semiotic intrigue of text presented at its most graphically potent state. Amongst the best earliest examples, Untitled is a paradigm of Murillo’s idiosyncratic folding method, as the canvas has been dissected into quarters, each representing a unique chapter of his extensive creative process. Murillo’s canvases may live on the floor of his studio for months, bearing the marks of their partial or accidental working overtime, before they are modulated into complete works of art. His unique reformulation of process splinters the creative moment over time, through acts of intentional labour and pure chance. As a final addition to the process, in a radiant yellow oil, here Murillo graces the canvas with one of his most iconic, enigmatic phrases. Playing with the Spanish word ‘pollo’, Murillo has reproduced the word through his unique folding technique to create a curiously playful palindrome superimposed over a buzzing abstract universe. It is with these semantic games of representation that Murillo extends on the expressive legacy of automatism, adding an entirely new conceptual dimension the act of painting.

    Drawing on the enigmatic impact of words as a subject for painting, as explored by Christopher Wool, in Untitled we see Murillo as his most inventive regarding the semantic games that he plays with text. Whilst ‘pollo’ (Spanish for ‘chicken’) speaks to his Columbian heritage, here its simple value as a signifier is confused. It is created by painting half of the word (‘pol’) then folding the canvas in two whist it is still wet, re-printing the word as a mirrored image that is dissected along a vertical axis of the work, readable from both left and right. This reifies the crucial theme of displacement in Murillo’s work: ‘For me the words are very displaced. Like cultural displacement with performance, in painting its material displacement, object displacement… I also like to think that these paintings also imply a displacement of time.’ (Oscar Murillo in conversation with Legacy Russell, BOMB Magazine, No. 122, Winter 2013, online.) Born in 1986, in a small mountain-side town of La Paila in South East Columbia, Murillo moved to London with his family when he was just 10 years old, experiencing a vastly different urban topography in the cosmopolitan British capital. Presenting his magnetic canvas as an accumulated process of collected gestures and aggregated histories, Murillo crafts within Untitled a unique ontology for the medium that manifests as a visually enthralling experience.

    Instantly recognisable and wholly unique, Murillo’s erratic and dynamic scrawl conjures a maelstrom of aesthetic energy that radiates both in and outside of the frame, substantiating a vision of contained creative chaos. Expressing passion and violence in the rich red scratches, deep mystery in his favoured marine blue loops, and jubilant ecstasy in the golden yellow text, Murillo’s oil stick harnesses painterly gesture at its most primal and emotive. Murillo’s freehanded and impassioned mark making pays partial homage to the legacy of Abstract Expressionism. The action painting of Jackson Pollock is evoked alongside the signature scrawl of Cy Twombly, who also combined the freedom of rhythmic line with choice words – a legacy extended by Neo-expressionist painter Jean-Michel Basquiat. But unlike these painters, Murillo consciously embeds within his practice the sense of pure automatism and chance that was pioneered by surrealists such as André Masson. Murillo’s canvases bear an embedded history that align them with the ready-mades of Marcel Duchamp, having spent up to two months lying on the floor of his studio, left to gather dust, footprints and detritus that he refers to as DNA: 'My studio is a cradle of dust and dirt, of pollution. I don’t tidy up at the end of each production process. It’s all very much on purpose; it’s continuous process, a machine of which I’m the catalyst. Things get moved around, I step on them, and they get contaminated. It’s not about leaving traces, it’s about letting things mature on their own’ (Oscar Murillo in conversation with Legacy Russell, BOMB Magazine, No. 122, Winter 2013, online.)

    Much like the cigarette butts that can be found in the surface of large scale paintings by Pollock, or the crucial layer of dust that Duchamp let collect on his masterpiece The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors over 8 years between 1915 and 1923, Untitled draws into its surface the weight of time and a holistic approach to the creative process. As an innovation that dominated his canvases around 2012, here Murillo’s graffiti-like marks are undoubtedly performative, but the canvas is envisioned as being in a constant state of creation, bearing the ephemeral marks of its lifecycle. Murillo sees expressive painting not merely as a grandiose shrine to the valorised creative moment, but a historic monument to temporality itself. Looking to simultaneously compress and stretch time, the artist fulfils his ‘desire to inhabit an environment where the multiple realities of that space, say, its materiality, its potential usages, its history, are all simultaneously active.’ (Oscar Murillo, quoted in C. Wood, ‘Dirty Painting’, Mousse Magazine, no. 35, October 2012, p. 107.)

Property of a European Collector



oil, oil stick, graphite and dirt on canvas
190 x 170 cm. (74 3/4 x 66 7/8 in.)
Executed in 2012.

HK$700,000 - 900,000 

Sold for HK$1,187,500

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 25 November 2018