The Silo Art Trail in Victoria Australia sits at an unlikely intersection of street art and rural roads. What started as a single beautification project grew into a mural movement that now includes six painted silos in Victoria. These towering portraits are a stunning recognition of rural life and the people who live it.
Finding the Silo Art Trail…in the Middle of Nowhere
My journey actually started in a dusty, weed-studded vacant lot in Nashville, Tennessee. Mary, our street art tour guide asked us if we wanted to “see something special.” We were all game, expecting yet another cool mural, but what she delivered was a silo mural by Guido Van Helten that stopped us dead in our tracks.
I began to cry as my eyes tracked up the fifteen story silo mural to find a most tender portrait of 91 year-old Lee Estes. I had seen Van Helten’s work in Reykjavik, but the scale and delicacy of the painted silos told me that he was onto a something new.
Some Instagram stalking revealed that Van Helten was also busy going vertical with silo murals in Victoria, Australia. So, six months later, I ended up a half a world away, in another dusty, weed-studded lot viewing his Brim silos.
I mention all of this, the crying and the stalking, so that you will understand why it’s worth driving into the hinterlands of Victoria to seek out the Silo Art Trail. Why it’s worth skipping a hike in the Grampions so that you will have time to marvel at the eyes of the child on Adnate’s Sheep Hills silo. Why it’s worth taking the long way back from the Great Ocean Road so that you can puzzle over the technique on Fintan Magee’s Patchewollock silo mural. It’s so worth it.
Check out the video:
Why is this Victoria Silo Art Even Here?
Intensely curious about how such urban art ended up in rural Victoria, I met up with Graeme Massey, the mayor of Yarriambiack Shire, a region that is also called the Mallee. He’s an affable guy and a big fan of the murals. Massey said that the project started with a happy confluence of interests. The town of Brim was looking for a beautification project for their main bus stop. Van Helten was looking for a rural silo to paint. The Shire was able to raise some money for the Brim silo but it was really done on a shoestring. Van Helten completed it in January of 2016.
The Brim silos were so popular that the shire funded an additional five silos with $400,000 raised from state, federal and local sources. The final silo was completed in 2017.
It’s a miracle that these silos are painted at all. The sheer complexity of coordinating with the artists, the Shire, Grain Corp (who owns the silos), the portrait subjects and the local population, was equally matched by the logistical challenge of sourcing cherry pickers and other construction equipment, painting supplies, and sustenance for the artists. Yarriambiack was helped in this regard by Juddy Roller, a street art network and curatorial service.
Juddy Roller’s founder, Shaun Hossack was motivated to help coordinate the project because he grew up out in a regional area like this, and he is “…acutely aware of the lack of artistic culture in isolated areas.”
Driving the Silo Art Trail
Driving the Silo Art Trail, I also became acutely aware of just how isolated the Mallee is. The landscape is dotted with 2,700 square miles of large scale farms with just a few towns stitching them together. There’s plenty of elbow room out here.
The Rupanyup Silo, by Julia Volchkova
Despite the sparsely populated nature of the Silo Art Trail, things were hopping at Rupanyup. The silo is owned by Australian Grain Exports and it’s the only one on the trail that’s still in use, They were filling it the day I rolled into town.
Volchkova’s subjects, Ebony Baker and Jordan Weidemann, represent the future of the Mallee. They are shown in their sports gear, honoring the huge role that sports play in rural Australia.
You can find more from Julia Volchkova on Instagram.
The Patchewollock Silo, by Fintan Magee
I then motored up to Patchewollock at the top of the trail and began working my way back down. From bottom to top, these narrow country roads cover 116 miles (180/k) of wheat fields. These fields are only occasionally punctuated with an abandoned train station here and a shuttered storefront there. It was lonely and beautiful, and only slightly dystopic.
Magee’s Patchewollock silo features the grain farmer, “Noodle” Hulland. Magee chose him not only because he fits the bill as the archetypal Aussie farmer, but also because his tall lanky frame fit the silo’s shape. Magee’s figurative style is very different from Volchkova’s. He uses more color, employing rolled and brushed paint to create an affect where parts of the mural drift off into an Impressionist reverie.
You can find more from Fintan Magee on Instagram.
Lascelles Silo, Rone
Massey assured me that the Silo Art Trail has brought positive impact to the local community. He referred the grey nomads detouring their caravans in order to visit the silos, dropping some cash into the local economy along the way.
I did indeed run into quite a few grey nomads during my silo pilgrimage. I’m usually the only grey hair on any street art tour. In fact, on my Paris street art tour, I had a good thirty years on everyone. So, it was a great surprise to see these retired folks with their bad knees and tragically practical footwear braking for street art.
Juddy Roller says that “The silos have been successful in creating new art lovers from all walks of life.”
True that. I shared space on the dirt lot in Lascelles, staring at Rone’s work with two grey nomads and a bus load of grandmas.
Rone got into the local Melbourne street art scene in the early 2000’s and you can find his work all over the city. He’s also done a silo in Geelong, which isn’t on the Silo Art Trail, but is worth a stop if you are doing the Great Ocean Road.
He describes his work as finding the “friction point between beauty and decay”, which is in full effect on the Lascelles silo. Geoff and Marilyn Horman are fourth generation farmers and Rone’s portrait of them has a ethereal, faded quality, as if the murals have been in the Mallee as long as the Horman’s have.
Find more of Rone’s work on Instagram.
Rosebery Silo, by Kaff-eine
Modern farming in the Mallee means larger acreage but fewer human resources, and being a contemporary farmer there can’t be an easy life. But Kaff-eine chose to paint her silo with subjects who are still very connected to the land. She calls them the “gentle horseman” and the “shepherdess”, labels that evoke a biblical quality.
Her Instagram posts during the painting process also underscore what a village it takes to launch a painted silo. She thanks no fewer than twenty people for helping her with the mural, four times more than the actual census population of Rosebery.
Find more of Kaff-eine’s work on Instagram.
Brim Silos, Guido Van Helten
Grabbing my Kleenex, just in case, I then pulled over in Brim. Van Helten painted a multi-generational series of portraits on each of the four silos.
Once again, I was touched by the deftness of his aerosol work. You don’t need a museum curator to tell you how his subjects are faring in rural Australia. Their faces say it all. Massey confessed to me that the Brim silo is his favorite, because he feels that it captures the essence of the community.
Find more of Van Helten’s work on Instagram.
Sheep Hills Silos, by Adnate
Because of my tearful girl crush on Van Helten, I had naturally assumed that his murals would be my favorite. However, Adnate is doing something very different in his silo art, which grabbed me by the shoulders and shook off the torpor that had set in after a long day of driving.
My street art tour guide in Melbourne has a bit of side eye for the Silo Art Trail. He feels that there is too much same-same in the murals and hoped that future works would have more creative diversity. However, it’s understandable how, in this inaugural project, it was tricky to balance creative freedom with the need to gain community buy-in. Because, as Juddy Roller puts it, “…in the end the communities in the Mallee are the final custodians of the work created.”
Adnate’s work on the Sheep Hills silo is helping to shape that future path. Yes, he painted portraits of community members. However, his murals are the only ones to feature Aboriginal people and he departed from the earth tones with a wild purple color palette. And those eyes! There is a universe reflected in those eyes.
Fine more of Adnate’s work on Instagram.
I rolled out of Sheep Hills and pointed myself toward Melbourne thinking about how the Silo Art Trail is redefining street art. Should we even call it that, since it has so clearly exploded beyond the streets? Street art is now defying urban borders and by doing so, has roped in all sort of unlikely fans; like grain farmers and grey nomads and tearful Americans who are willing to travel twenty hours to see a painting on an old grain silo.
Silo Art Trail Map
This map will to help you find the painted silos in Victoria and navigate between the towns. Once you are in the vicinity of each silo, you’ll quickly find that they are hard to miss. They shoot out of the ground like a Louvre painting on radioactive steroids. Each silo has an ample parking area and descriptive signage.
Be sure to follow the Australian Silo Art Facebook page. They feature silo murals from all over the country.
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