Oscar Murillo is tucking into a lunch when I meet him across the street from his studio in east London, and we start our interview over tasty Turkish food. I ask about the press he received for his paintings going for record prices in the June auctions and he says he was in his native Colombia and the news swept through the country.
He is clear that his work is not about the market at all, but is about the experiences that he had, first in South America and now here in his adopted country. Born in 1986, Murillo and his family came to London in when he was 10. He recalls his idyllic “childhood innocence” in a small village in Colombia with a large extended family. “My father was a mechanic in a sugar cane factory and my mother worked for a candy factory: we had a sweet life!”
Fifty of Murillo’s relatives have migrated to London, forming as close clan here as in Colombia. “My uncle and cousin work with me in the studio and my mother comes and helps me cook – my auntie too.” Murillo’s past exhibitions have included “events” where his family “play themselves”. “They are not performers, more a re-enactment of who we are and what we do.”
Murillo studied at the Royal College of Art and says this period was important to him, even if as something to react against. He recalls insisting that his seminar would be held in the local chicken shop, admitting his peers “found it very offensive”. He wanted to use the detritus of life in his work, asking the owner to make a bin with one of his canvases to collect the rubbish in, something that he now has translated into his studio practice.
At this point, we decamp across the street to see the practice in action. We walk down a side passage into a surprisingly small space – Murillo’s works can be very large – where his cousin and uncle are casting some of the cannon balls in concrete that will feature in his forthcoming show at the South London Gallery. On the wall hang some of his paintings, unstretched, slightly grubby looking, their surfaces enlivened with words familiar from past works – coco, yoga or chorizo.
He breaks off our conversation to discuss something with his helpers who are un-moulding some of the balls and preparing others, lacing them with the debris of past paintings and dirt from the floor.
I point at the dirt, created in the making of the cement, being transplanted to the canvas, and he says, “Most painters are terrified of painting in the same space where they are eating, sleeping and defecating. This is my idea of how the work progresses.” As I leave, I ask if his uncle and cousin help with the paintings, and his answer is a brisk: “When it comes to making the paintings, that’s my job.”
Oscar Murillo: if I was to draw a line, this journey started approximately 400 kilometres north of the equator, South London Gallery, London SE5 (020 7703 6120) 20 September to 1 December