As Kyle Hughes-Odgers’ mural took shape over the past month, questions have shifted from “what will it be” to “what does it mean?” The artist, a nationally acclaimed muralist whose work brightens walls from Berlin to the heart of Perth’s CBD, hinted at his intentions for the artwork as the project got underway;
“I lose interest in art if it’s too obvious, for me the magic is in working it out,” he said.
In Victoria, a series of murals on towering wheat silos by renowned street artists from Australia and across the globe has brought thousands of new visitors to five of the state’s smallest towns. A point of distinction and a beacon to tourists and travellers that tells the world “there’s something more to this community”. A reason to stop and scratch beneath the surface. A new location marker on Australia’s cultural map, bringing business to town and celebrating the heritage of the Wimmera/Mallee region.
Western Australia’s PUBLIC Silo Trail, which launched in March 2015 with the first silo mural in Australia as part of a partnership between cultural organisation FORM and CBH Group, has similar aspirations. The project works to enhance cultural tourism in regional Western Australia, build the reputation of participating towns as places to visit world-class, large scale artwork and encourage opportunities for economic growth through increased tourism. Since the announcement of the PUBLIC Silo Trail project in July, FORM has been inundated with requests to bring the project to regional towns across the state, from Tammin to Kellerberrin and Three Springs to Geraldton.
But Western Australia’s PUBLIC Silo Trail is a little different and the artworks we create aren’t the larger-than-life portraits you’ll find throughout Victoria. Each silo mural in FORM’s art trail, from international street art heavyweight HENSE’s eye catching abstract mural and world- admired Phlegm’s impossible flying machines at Northam to Western Australian artist Amok Island’s Banksia inspired creation at Ravensthorpe, is surprising, distinctive and unique.
The process of discovery as the art takes form, day by day and brushstroke by brushstroke, is an important part of the experience. Asking you to stop and consider. Sheaves of Wheat. Windmill frames. Salt lakes. Farming machines. The Golden Pipeline meandering behind the distinctive granite outcrops of the region. A patchwork of triangles in the purples, burnt oranges and yellows of the rich earth. Does Kyle Hughes-Odgers’ Merredin mural signify sunset over the crop or jacarandas in bloom? Planting and growth in its sprouting seedlings? The blues of a Wheatbelt sky in the faces of giant figures? To a degree, it’s all those things.
Kyle Hughes-Odgers’s carefully researched artwork concept tells a story about Merredin, its natural environment in his color palette, its diverse community in his abstract forms and figures, it’s landforms and agricultural history in his symbols and representations. Creating the artwork was a labor of love; aside from the psychological guts it takes to put your life’s work out to the world – open to judgements and criticisms, it’s also physically grueling. Hughes-Odgers is tackling his biggest canvas yet, working in beating sun and slicing wind, 135 feet from the ground and around the clock. “I have a rational fear of standing in a metal bucket 12 storeys off the ground,” he said with characteristic understatement when asked whether he had any nerves about the project.
But for Kyle Hughes-Odgers, one of just a few Western Australian-based street artists regularly invited to participate in international festivals and projects, more than anything it was a privilege to be entrusted with the opportunity to paint Merredin’s most prominent landmark. “I took on the Merredin silos to contribute something to the Western Australian landscape and the state I grew up in,” he said. “I wanted to make the final artwork engaging on multiple levels. Celebrating with the scale of the silos with the composition, exploring ideas of the landscape, sky, local industry and the environment (through use of colour and imagery) then trying to connect all these ideas into a broader sense of the history of the area and present day through our connection as human beings to the land and environment.”
Kyle Hughes -Odgers’ mural is a message to Australia and the world and it’s talking about Merredin. The artwork is a celebration of a unique Wheatbelt community. A way for a renowned Western Australian artist to give back to his home state. Something made for the community but also for the wider state that provokes questions and sparks conversation. Something that asks you to linger, to think, to wonder.
Visit publicsilotrail.com for more information on the PUBLIC Silo Trail.
All photographs by Bewley Shaylor, courtesy of FORM, 2017.