On ViewScuola Grande Della Misericordia
Oscar Murillo: A Storm Is Blowing From Paradise
September 17–November 27, 2022
A brutal fog descended upon Venice curtailing the tips of towers and almost reaching the arches of the city’s ornate bridges. Herds of school children passed through a narrow aisle as I proceeded to Scuola Grande della Misericordia where Oscar Murillo has installed 25,000 cuts of canvases covered with drawings of school children. The show, which also includes an installation of abstract paintings and black canvases (all suspended from the ceiling) is titled A Storm Is Blowing From Paradise, after Walter Benjamin’s essay. In it, Paul Klee’s watercolor drawing of an angel, Angelus Novus (1921), has its eyes fixed on a corner in attempt to leave something behind. In a show with children’s drawings, such an angel resonates with growing up, the unstoppable passage from childhood into adolescence and adulthood.
Overall titled Frequencies, Murillo started the drawings project in 2013 with his childhood school in Colombia where he stapled canvases to desks for students to scribble their thoughts for a year. The project now includes children’s work from thirty-four countries. As it evolved its conditions remained: children were given no instructions on what to draw or when to reach for a pen. Inside the fourteenth century building, the canvases—some of which are cut in the shape of single desks with armrests—sit on heaps on industrial steel shelves, available for the public to peek through. Anonymous, the canvases are covered with super heroes, cartoon characters, explosions, houses, and words. They are rendered in children’s universal language of juvenile mystery untranslatable to adults. They are markers of afterthoughts, chronicles of boredom, confusion, and daydreams—the results of quick mental escapes.
The drawings invite immediate exchange; I flipped through the canvases to encounter what an anonymous child in Wuhan, China or Giza, Egypt felt prompted by in a given moment. The drawings from Kenya and Zambia have earthy tones on their canvases due to the red air and those from Nepal have dirt all around as they came from schools without walls. They are anonymous entries of a thought process, sketches of raw non-mediated childhood imaginations.
Made out of some of the canvases sewn together, Murillo’s paintings blend children’s drawings with his chaotic brushstrokes painted over them. In the middle of the display stands a massive tent decorated with repeating patterns from the drawings—trees, eyes, emojis, and religious flags are singled out and digitally printed onto the soaring tent. Inside, a four-screen film surrounds the tight interior with drone shot footage of mateos (Colombia’s traditional New Year puppets). In the film, papier-mâché puppets lay around like dead bodies in the nature of southwest Colombia. Murillo added a motion-activated element that lets the viewer see their movements reflected on body-like figures made out of tiny scans of the children’s drawings. On my visit, one child began making erratic gestures to activate the sensory invitation—her arms and legs moving left and right, she was amazed by the mosaic of canvases mirroring her actions. Suddenly, one bit from the constellation of drawings blew up to cover the whole screen; enormous, the drawing looked like a map of an unknown land or a brain scan.
Upstairs, the smell of fresh oil from the massive pitch black canvases permeated the entire floor dressed with murals of the Veronese School—the same room was used for recreation, such as basketball games or wrestling, in the last century. Competitive thrills now bygone, the place is filled with the hefty drapes and more of Murillo’s paintings. At the end hangs a curved nine-panel painting that corners the space with an explosive abstraction in landscape form; Monet’s Water Lilies comes to mind for its wrapping the interior with a slice of pastoral imagination. In Murillo’s case, Monet’s daydream of Giverny is nowhere but indeed everywhere, of a school in Baku in Azerbaijan as much as one in Santiago in Chile or Dakar, Senegal. In Venice, the fog disappeared with the evening and sunlight glinted off tips of towers and the arches of bridges.