Great ideas always have to have a starting point and the now famous Silo Art Trail – Australia’s biggest outdoor art gallery has been one of those inspirational ideas. The Trail brought together renowned street artists from Australia and across the globe to give new life to ailing towns in the Wimmera/Mallee region. The first was the tiny town of Brim whose Active Community Group saw the potential and engaged artist Guido van Helten to turn their disused wheat silos into a giant canvas. In our autumn 2016 Issue we profiled Guido and spoke with Brim’s Shane Wardle about their journey in being trailblazers in this remarkable arts project that has changed the fortunes of small towns and is an ongoing and evolving paradigm.
The Brim Silo murals stand like a beacon on the flat Wimmera terrain, attracting visitors from around Australia and across the globe. The work has received a lot of media attention since Brisbane based artist Guido van Helten completed the 30 metre high monumental task in January,(2016) and deservedly so. So how did it come about and how has it affected the community and indeed the artist himself?
When acclaimed artist Guido van Helten decided he wanted to paint on a disused silo, he didn’t have any particular town in mind but asked street artist management company Juddy Roller to find him silos in Victoria. They approached GrainCorp, who came up with a set in Brim. Other towns had rejected the idea of their silos being a canvas for a mural, but the Brim Active Community Group recognised a golden opportunity in the offing. President Shane Wardle, whose family has farmed the area since 1894 said: “It’s the biggest thing to ever happen in the town and a welcome boost at a time of drought and shrinking population.” In fact, for a tiny place with a population of around 100, it is a huge shift in fortune. Shane said: “I don’t think I was off the phone for a long time, working on getting this started”. Funds came from Regional Arts Victoria and the Yarriambiack Shire Council, paint was donated by Taubmans and Loop Paints, and the local caravan park and pub provided free accommodation and meals.
The result has been a magnificent mural, virtually in the middle of nowhere, that will stand for decades to come. Artist Guido van Helten says that the mural will improve with age and will look as good, if not better, in ten years than it does today.
Guido was born in Brisbane to a second generation Australian family from Holland. The twenty nine year old artist has drawn and painted for as long as he can remember, becoming more serious about art in his teen years. He became involved in community work in his twenties and it was then that he really developed his own style. At university he studied printing, however he says “that didn’t add to my current style in any way”. Painting on tall buildings was a natural evolution for this modest young man. He says, rather tongue in cheek, “You start by getting a ladder, then you get a bigger ladder, then it becomes more challenging when you have to look at cherry pickers and cranes”. He added, “It’s when you get to this point that it is as much about the challenge as the actual artwork”. The challenge has seen Guido creating giant portraits in Ukraine, Norway, Italy, Denmark and Iceland, often in freezing temperatures.
“In Australia silos are iconic structures wasting away and using them for art gives them a whole new life” says Guido. “Driving around the country I would often drive straight past these small towns” adding, “I’ve wondered, what’s it like? What are the people like? Who lives here? It’s something people in the city don’t know about, they don’t know how country living works – they just get their bread and don’t think about it.”
Working so high on such large surfaces, it’s hard to imagine how Guido maintains perspective of the finished image. “I work to a plan,” he said. “I take photos of the subject and the building and map it out on the computer. In Brim the challenge was to accommodate the silos curves”. He doesn’t make much of the other challenges he faces when working on such large canvases, such as the elements. In Europe he has endured bone breaking cold, whilst in Brim he worked for up to ten hours a day in temperatures often reaching the low forties, with strong winds making working at height not only challenging, but dangerous. Guido has a pragmatic approach; “You just work through it”.
The response to the mural has been overwhelmingly positive and even taken Guido by surprise. “The Brim project has been more successful than I thought and I’m receiving offers of a lot of overseas commissions … The project itself was interesting and well worth doing. It takes artwork and puts it somewhere it can make a difference and be really positive. I enjoyed taking the work and pushing the limits to see what it can do.” An unexpected bonus is that he has discovered how his artwork can really benefit a community and now he would like to continue using his talents to help other communities who need it as well.
The Brim silo project may have been a lot of hard work for this very talented artist, but it seems it wasn’t all hard graft. Although he only stayed in the town for a month it happened to coincide with his birthday, Christmas and New Year, and while he was a long way from home and family the town folk of Brim made him very welcome. So much so that Guido’s unwashed shirt that he wore every day while working now hangs proudly in the Brim Hotel.
This amazing project is a prime example of what forward thinking, proactive communities can do. The town of Brim was struggling but an opportunity came their way in the form of a request from an artist who wanted to paint silos. Shane Wardle of the Brim Active Community Group said: “We couldn’t have dreamed of a better opportunity and getting it has been an absolute fluke. This town only has four businesses – a pub, a garage, caravan park and a general store, and as a result of the silos they are all growing – so we are very lucky!”
To learn more about the Brim Silo Art and Guido van Helten visit and www.guidovanhelten.com