Artist Spotlight: A Conversation with Michelle Murillo

I had the opportunity to speak with Michelle Murillo, head of printmaking at California College of the Arts. She recently exhibited work in Textile conversations in Glass at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles in conjunction with the GAS conference.

SJL: Please give some background so we know something about you.

MM: My education background is in painting and printmaking. I grew up back east and slowly made my way west. I went to graduate school at the University of Alberta in Edmonton and then got my first teaching job in Texas. From there I made my way to California, where I teach at California College of the Arts. I’ve always been really interested in the print and the imagery, but pushing the boundaries of printmaking , so that started with an investigation of different materials and substrates that I could print on other than paper, and that ended up  expanding and becoming very large scale.

SJL: You are a printmaker. Can you tell us about printmaking in general, and your approach in particular?

MM: Printmaking is a diverse set of media – intaglio, relief, lithography and screen printing – each with their unique aesthetics and image making possibilities. Print has a long history steeped in tradition, industry and also today embraces new technologies such as digital printmaking. In my creative practice I seek to expand the vocabulary of printmaking and the multiple in an interdisciplinary context. I often use alternative processes and materials to this end.

SJL: What guides your artistic philosophy?

MM: Simply stated – Balance: inspiration, concept, material and process.

SJL: How/why did you start to use glass as a substrate?

MM: I found myself teaching (at the University of Texas, Arlington) at a school where for the first time I was introduced to a glass studio. And I had recently completed a body of work using materials like aluminum, sheer scrim fabric and satin. I chose them for their material and visceral qualities. It was natural to move toward glass because of its luminosity and ephemeral qualities. Glass is transparent and printmakers think in layers because the process of producing a print often requires building an image by color separations.

SJL: Your work at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles, Destinations, is an installation composed of many small elements. The printmaking process itself is not the focus of the work – it is one part of a greater whole. Is this typical of how you work, and could you talk to this technique/idea?



MM: I often think process is just the means at which to arrive at the final product. But somehow along the way process and technique can inform and even radically change the way you approach the work. With so many variables, steps and mis-steps, such as with glass and printmaking it is important to be able to recognize when you have found something great. 

With the series of post cards, as it is true for all my work, I was looking for the right combination of material, process and content to visually express what I wanted to say. The postcards project is the first series where I was using glass as a substrate. They are autobiographical in a sense. I had just moved to Texas and was thinking about the places I had lived. I had moved around a lot as a child and at that time I had lived in six states plus Canada and wanted to collect different narratives or stories from the different places I had lived, but I didn’t want them to necessarily be my personal stories, so I went on EBay and bought old postcards from the places I had lived. It was a really nice way of connecting all of those places.


Destinations - Detail


My previous work had dealt with memory and identity, and how we construct identity. So much of that is connected to place and the people we encounter. The postcards play on the notation that memories are so fleeting and fragile. Of course, the glass was perfect because it is so ephemeral.

While at the University of Texas I was invited to work in the glass studio. I had no idea what I was doing, but had help in working with the kiln. I did not know what the glass was going to do. We took it to a really high temperature and the glass sort of pull in and looked weathered, almost like sea-glass. It was really serendipitous. That was my first foray into glass, and I kept being inspired by this amazing material.

And I think there is incredible power in the multiple –in the iteration of an idea, perhaps that is why I am compelled to make prints.

SJL: What are you currently working on?

MM: I am putting the finishing touches on a body of work, A measure of Time, that I made during a residency at Bullseye Glass. It has been an incredibly generative and productive time. The residency allowed me the freedom to explore and push my ideas in glass. I have created pieces using digital “decal” prints, screen printed and hand formed frit wafers.


Bullseye Residency - Adrift


I was introduced to Bullseye when they opened the Resource Center. Stacey Lynn Smith came and did a demo on powder printing, and when I saw that a light bulb went off! Before that I was screen-printing onto glass that had already been kilnformed. They were fragile because the inks could be scraped off. But with the powder printing you end up with this archival print.

I created a map with 127 frit wafers…it’s a genetic memory map. I was doing research into my ancestry and wanted more information that your families tell you, so got a DNA test. It took a little while to get the courage to do it because you don’t know what you’re going to unearth. It’s a little like opening Pandora’s box. It’s been fascinating…it confirms what I know but it also expands and complicates the story too because there was some unknown lineage there. It inspired me to make that body of work.


Bullseye Residency – Identification Card


So working across glass and printmaking seems befitting of the complex subject of identity. The fusion of media is a paradox: ephemeral (glass), yet fixed (print) and somehow remains mutable and mysterious - like the journey of retrieving the past through DNA.

SJL:  Where can we see your work?

MM: The exhibition, A Measure of Time will be at Bullseye, Emeryville August 15 – October 17, 2015.

SJL: What else would you like to share?

MM: This is an interesting tidbit. As artists we are on this journey, this evolution. I was updating my website and realizing that most of my recent work is glass! I was on a printmaking panel discussion at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art a couple months ago, and the director Kathy Kimball referred to me a sculptor who works in glass, and I thought that was very interesting. Her point was that people who work across disciplines can be confounding to curators and people who are trying to fit you into categories. But the wonderful thing about art is that you can transcend all that. I don’t know where my future work is headed, but for this exhibition at Bullseye I am creating a sound piece, which will be my first foray into sound.

SJL: Thank you Michelle for taking the time to speak with us!

More of Michelle’s work can be seen at: www.michellemurillo.net


Adrift - Detail


[Susan Longini]