The street artist who paints wheat silos

  • 21 February 2017
  • From the section Australia
A portrait of a local schoolgirl painted on the side of a grain silo in Coonalpyn, South Australia Image copyright ABC
Image caption The silos will feature a series of five portraits that locals hope will literally stop traffic

A steady stream of onlookers has gathered since the first brushstroke touched the towering grain silos.

The paint is barely dry on the portrait of the schoolgirl gazing down from the top of the 30m (100ft) structure and already it is the talk of the town.

The artist is Guido van Helten who has made a name for himself making large-scale public artworks in cities across Europe and the US.

He has now become the centre of attention in Coonalpyn, a farming town in South Australia with a population of about 200 and a giant sense of community.

"It's just a very small town on the highway between Adelaide and Melbourne," Mr van Helten told the BBC. "People probably drive through here all the time without even knowing its name."

A cafe looking out onto the work in progress is one of the first businesses to open in the town for years. A retired lorry driver, who spends days taking photos of the artist painting from a cherry-picker, has even become a something of a local celebrity himself.

This piece was painted inside an unfinished power generator at Chernobyl to mark the 30th anniversary of the nuclear disaster Image copyright Guido van Helten
Image caption This piece was painted inside an unfinished power generator at Chernobyl to mark the 30th anniversary of the nuclear disaster
This mural on the outskirts of Mexico City was a response to high rates of violence towards women Image copyright Guido van Helten
Image caption On the outskirts of Mexico City, this piece was a response to high rates of violence towards women
Guido van Helten's mural on the side of two giant grain silos in Jacksonville, Florida. Image copyright Guido van Helten
Image caption This mural in Jacksonville, Florida, portrays two local activists: Connell, a member of the deaf speaking community; and Sara, a Palestinian American
Guido van Helten's mural on the side of an 18-storey apartment block in Kiev, Ukraine Image copyright Guido van Helten
Image caption A girl in traditional Ukrainian clothing painted on the side of an 18-storey Soviet-era apartment block in Kiev

It's a long way from the famous graffiti-covered laneways of Melbourne and, in a way, that's the point. Locals commissioned the project after a similar artwork by Mr van was Helten was credited with boosting visitors to Brim, a dwindling farming town in Victoria.

"It was probably one of my most uplifting projects because I could directly see that what I had done has made some sort of difference and I didn't expect that at all," Mr van Helten told the BBC.

The Brisbane-based artist says his work is primarily about places and spaces. He typically arrives in the cities where he works with no preconceived ideas and embeds himself in local communities as part of his process.

"There's a bit of a global movement that recognises the value of mural art as tool for regeneration," he said.

He has plans to travel next to Raukkan an Aboriginal community in South Australia, followed by Dubai and Nashville.

"I'm not getting invites from New York," he said.

"The offers comes from the forgotten about places or the places that want to try new things or use their infrastructure in a creative way."

Photos by Guido van Helten

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