Artist Oscar Murillo goes back to school with canvas project

For a long time it was endless One Direction scrawls. Then it was Harry Styles, and then it was neither, but all along there have been a lot of football references, a lot of Superman “S” signs and a lot of cryptic messages that mean nothing to the casual eye but everything to those who wrote them.

The inner lives, interests and obsessions of more than 100,000 school children from around the world have been gathered by the Turner prize winner Oscar Murillo and gone on display at his old school.

The idea of the project is a simple one. Beginning in 2013, he sent blank canvases to schools and asked for them to be attached to desks so that the students, aged between 10 and 16, could draw on them over a period of months – or scribble, write, or mark them in any way they wanted.

During the school summer holidays, they will be presented in the sports hall at Cardinal Pole Catholic school in Hackney, London. Examples will be shown on screens and in special displays. The rest are piled up like a reference library. Murillo has also created new artworks using stitched-together canvases.

When he started the project, Murillo said he was thinking about “the purity in drawing. I felt that, historically, artists like Picasso or Dubuffet discussed the idea of drawing in terms of purity. In my case I wanted to explore those ideas directly with the source, the child.”

The resulting canvases – 40,000 of them – convey the conscious and unconscious energy of young minds at their most absorbent and fluid, he said.

Murillo sent the first canvases to a school in Colombia, where he was born and grew up before his family moved to London. That was in 2013. Since then, they have been sent to more than 350 schools in 34 countries, including Brazil, China, Lebanon, Nepal, Turkey and the UK.

The project is called Frequencies and it felt “fitting, almost poetic” that it should be displayed at his old school in London, he said.

“It’s a little bit romantic, but I remember being in La Paila, Colombia, aged 10 years old and my dad saying he wanted to travel to the UK.

“I am looking at this map of the world and find this tiny little island which looks to me like it’s in the middle of nowhere. Six months later we find ourselves there, my family totally uprooted, and Cardinal Pole school became this family, where education and culture were injected into life.”

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