Mauricio Murillo, known locally by his artist’s name, Crummy Gummy, launched his Salad Days portrait series after he kept noticing a group of intriguing people at art exhibitions around Orlando. The subjects aren’t models, but “gallery kids,” Murillo says: “A small group of diverse young adults that contribute to Orlando, Florida’s unique culture. Every portrait session is the result of conversations with those individuals found at art shows.”
Colombian-American artist Murillo was born and raised in Central Florida. “I’m an advocate for our ‘lost identity,’ particularly the lives and emotions of residents here in Orlando,” Murillo says. “Theme parks aside, there is … an oasis of creativity.”
Documenting one’s own social milieu and peers is a tradition as old as art, though staked out most notably in recent contemporary photography by Nan Goldin, Ryan McGinley and Jess T. Dugan. Murillo, though, rather than capturing his subjects in situ, turns up the theatricality with meticulously posed subjects against perfectly harmonizing backdrops. The final product has the sheen of commercial photography, but unlike a fashion editorial or an ad, these confections are a true collaboration — Murillo chooses backdrops and sets to complement the self-presentation of his sitters, letting their aesthetic lead and functioning as a foil.
Although not every Salad Days subject firmly identifies as gay or lesbian, all of them fit in the “questioning” category. “Fluid sexuality, pride, race, gender and the constantly evolving cultural heritage we carry with us are a focus of the series,” Murillo says. Some are caught in an indeterminate state of seeking; some are quite determined as to who and what they are, even — or especially — if there’s no one else like them.
Crummy Gummy’s work is currently on view at the Bower Museum in Santa Ana, California. His portraits have also been published in the British Journal of Photography’s annual Portrait of Humanity book.