During 2020 Murillo staged an exhibition titled ética y estética in the local church in La Paila. This gesture, for Murillo, reflected the ambiguous role played by organised religion within the small community. On the one hand, the church had been pivotal in efforts to support the most vulnerable at a moment of complete crisis, and Murillo himself had worked closely with the local priest in his own efforts to provide aid. On the other, Murillo remained conscious of the history of religion, particularly in the post-colonial context of Latin America, as representing both a colonial history, and part of the present social architecture of the region, which is characterised by severe inequality.
In 2021, Murillo continues to explore these issues, creating new works in Tekantó, a municipality the Yucatán region of Mexico, and exhibiting them in the town’s Parroquia San Agustín church. Drawn to Yucatán because of its ancestral connection to the Maya people, Murillo sees the intervention in a church as particularly apt. With its imposing Spanish-colonial architecture, the church is formally beautiful, while at the same time holding a complex and at times brutal history, as well as being situated within a community which remains vulnerable.
Murillo’s exhibition within the Parroquia San Agustín comprises site-specific elements throughout the fabric of the building. On the church’s upper floor, open to the elements, are partially ruined remnants of the original building, completed in 1576. Here, Murillo has created painted panels to fit the different archways. Created by the artist in a temporary studio nearby, these works form part of the surge series, featuring a ground of combined fragments of canvas worked on by Murillo in different time periods and locations, overlayed with gestural strokes in oil bar.
On the church’s more modern ground floor, which is still in active use by the community, further examples from the surge series can be found, also created by the artist during his residency in the local area. These large-scale, unstretched canvases are suspended between the columns which flank the congregation, a reflection of Murillo’s tendency to present his paintings in unconventional ways, responding directly to the architecture they are placed within. As well as these grand, arresting works, Murillo has created a group of intimately-scaled paintings, each 50 cm squared, subtly distributed throughout the space. Numbering 14, these works consciously echo the 14 ‘stations of the cross’, a common feature in Catholic places of worship, also known as the ‘Way of Sorrows’ or ‘Via Crucis’, which narrate Jesus’ Christ’s condemnation and journey to crucifixion. Worshippers traditionally make a ‘pilgrimage’ to each station, reciting a prayer at each.
As well as engaging with traditional catholic symbolism, these works refer to the history of the region, through their use of locally sourced ‘Mayan blue’ pigment. The natural dye is thought to originate from 800 AD and was used extensively in pre-Columbian Maya and Aztec societies, in both decorative and devotional contexts, notably in murals. Its use disappeared in the 16th century with the advent of Spanish colonialism. For Murillo, its use in this series of paintings serves as a ‘ghost’. Formally using the same techniques as the larger surge works, these delicate paintings, with their distinctive blue-green hue, provide a sense of tranquillity. Beneath their surface, however, lie tensions inherent in the complex histories of religion and colonialism symbolically embedded within them.