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Graduate Story: Guido Van Helten

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Guido Van Helten
Contemporary street artist
Bachelor of Visual Arts

Guido Van Helten transforms the sides of buildings into breathtaking portraits, with his most recent work turning a small country town in regional Victoria into a tourist destination overnight.

Guido's large scale, site-specific murals blend an appreciation of architecture, cultural influence and historic imagery. His work adorns walls in France, Ukraine, Belarus, Estonia, Iceland, Norway, UK and Ireland.

"By investing love in something neglected, my work creates a sense of intimacy and pride in the community. When I paint a wall, often it can generate some interest and care in the public space, for example cleaning up the apartment or planting flowers."

Guido returned to Australia for his portrait of four farmers on a row of disused wheat silos, 30-metres high, in the drought-stricken Victorian farming community of Brim. He spent one month in the town, population 100, battling scorching 30-plus-degree temperatures and dust storms.

"I'd wanted to a paint a silo for a while now and worked hard to find one."

Guido is keeping secret the identity of the four.

"I don't want this to be about individual people specifically. It's about this place, it's about the community and, on a broader scale, the whole Wimmera region.

"If you leave the anonymity to these people and people see whoever they want to see, they can have their own connection to the work."

While his preferred medium is aerosol cans, Guido thinks of himself as a muralist rather than a street artist.

"It's about colour and composition. I'm always searching for the right colour. The colour needs to match the environment. I want to bring the picture out of the wall so it becomes part of the wall.

"Every time I start a wall it's always completely different. I visualise how the image will fit on the huge canvas in front of me. After the first day I often think, 'I can't do this, it's impossible', but I get back up there and make myself work it out. There's a lot of problem solving along the way.

"I now have no control over it. I just go where there's an opportunity. Someone contacts me about a project and I usually can't say no. The art is dictating where I go, I'm constantly travelling. It's impossible for me to plan too far ahead."

Guido was a graffiti artist in his youth.

"While studying at SCU I started doing murals as a flow-on from graffiti. The lecturers encouraged me to approach people and I did murals in Byron Bay and in Lismore's Back Alley Gallery."

For his visual arts degree Guido majored in printmaking, but he also studied some graphic design.

"Printmaking is very process-based: repetition and process. You create the work on the plate before you even start printing. So all the artistic elements are created first, then it's just hard work after that. It's the same with these murals: creating and preparing the piece beforehand is where there's artistry. Then I spend the time bringing the image to life on the wall.

"The lecturers at SCU were incredibly supportive in letting me do my own thing. Interestingly, printmaking, painting and graphic design all come together in what I do now with the murals.

"I moved from Brisbane to study at SCU's Lismore campus. Lismore gave me space, it was kind of exotic. Being away from the city, by myself, away from my usual peer group, I was left to do what I wanted to do. You get to create something brand new and unique, make new friends, create a community, in that sort of situation."

Guido could return to Lismore later this year to restore his 2011 portrait of a woman in the Back Alley Gallery, which was defaced by vandals. The image was used as the cover for Lismore tourism promotional campaigns and brochures.

After that, Guido is keen to get back into the studio.

"I haven't put any love into my studio work for a long time, I'm not sure what I'll produce. I might return to printmaking though."