From his hometown of Brisbane, Australia to the Middle East and Northern Europe, Australian muralist Guido Van Helten has traveled across the globe. But now, the photojournalism-inspired painter aims to leave his mark on small town America.
The 30-year-old artist paints large-scale murals on existing local monuments, using structures like concrete buildings and grain elevators as his canvases. Van Helten has done multiple works across small towns in the United States, including murals in Nashville, Jacksonville and Fort Smith, Arkansas, and was recently selected to paint a mural on a 110-foot grain silo along the Des Moines River in Fort Dodge, Iowa.
The murals themselves, which stand stories tall and often feature replicated headshots that he took of local community members, are plotted out months in advance while Van Helten travels throughout the town taking photographs of the area’s residents. “I want the work to have that deep resonance with people,” Van Helten says. “My work is very much about people and it comes from my interest in portraiture. It’s sort of evolved into a study of people through painting and photography.”
Van Helten has been painting since he was 15 years old, but recently gained an interest in photojournalism when he began experimenting with his locally-inspired muralist style in 2013. Since then, the Australia-based artist has been traveling the world, visiting different communities and leaving murals behind inspired by the people he’s met. The works leave a lasting mark that depict a localized way of life, telling stories of the people who live in the surrounding area and representing their accomplishments and struggles.
The combination of meeting those locals and researching their history is what’s at the heart of his process, Van Helten tells Creators. “I’m obviously an outsider when I come in, so I want the work to be a part of the place,” he says. “I’ve realized photography has to play an important role in the process. I’m not just going to go to a place and paint a figurative image that’s not from there.”
Van Helten’s ability to immerse himself into the local community has allowed him to grow his international community, as well. At the time Creators spoke with Van Helten on the phone, the artist was visiting Nashville, where he previously created a mural highlighting the gentrification throughout the city’s local neighborhoods. By getting to know people in towns across the world and familiarizing himself with what their daily lives are like and what struggles they face, Van Helten says he has a sharper understanding of the global community.
“I think that maybe society could benefit a lot by learning that people are the same everywhere,” the artist says. “The majority of people in the world are good.” By displaying this message in such an enormous manner, Van Helten says he hopes his work makes an impact on townspeople the way murals did for him when he was a child.
“I remember murals when I was growing up and as a child looking up at something that large, it’s going to leave an impact on you and you grow up with it,” Van Helten says of local work in his hometown of Brisbane. “It may influence people in ways that we don’t know. I’m doing this job based off a few things that I remember growing up. I like that people will see (my murals) and know it’s about them.”
Van Helten’s next mural will be in Fort Dodge, Iowa and is projected to be finished with the project in spring of 2018. You can see all of the artist’s past work on his website here.