Street Art and Silos – WA’s Outdoor Art Trail
From urban street-art encounters to far-flung sculpture installations, staggeringly big wheat-silo murals and ancient Aboriginal rock-art sites, WA is one vast outdoor gallery.
Whether they’re visiting the city or the outback, the north or the south, WA’s abundant outdoor galleries mean that art enthusiasts and novices alike will find art to be entranced by.
Perth’s street-art boom
Kick off your artful explorations in Perth, where street-art expert Nikki Atack fills us in on the city’s booming mural scene
Nikki and Duncan Atack started the ‘Streets of Perth’ Facebook page four years ago to document the city’s nascent street-art scene. Now they have more than 200,000 followers, and Perth has become an internationally recognised street-art epicentre following the launch of the PUBLIC street-art festival in 2014. The brainchild of cultural organisation FORM, the festival showcased national and local artists, with more than 180 street murals being painted in the first festival.
“Artists who were up-and-comers four years ago are now being really well commissioned and putting their day jobs on the backburner,” says Nikki. “International artists are working here, and local artists are being flown to America and London and Portugal to paint. Perth is really on the map now: there’s colour everywhere.”
This artistic blossoming has been aided and abetted by sympathetic local councils’ more relaxed approach to policing graffiti. “There are councillors who keep in touch with us,” Nikki confirms, “and we don’t hear much from the police any more. Even if there is an illegal wall, if the mural is beautiful, they tend to preserve it.”
The relationship between art, food and drink is proving a fertile one in Perth, as Nikki elaborates: “The biggest trend we’ve seen is café and restaurant owners coming to us and saying, ‘We want a mural: who do we talk to?’ They know that if they have a beautiful artwork that’s Instagram-worthy, it’s going to attract people to see it.”
For visitors to Perth who want to engage with the scene, Nikki points people towards the Google map on the ‘Streets of Perth’ website: “We’ve plotted about 300 murals on there. There are also a couple of great city walking tours: Oh Hey WA do a street-art and small-bar tour. But in the city, you can’t walk more than a block or two without seeing some street art. We just encourage people to put their phones down and their eyes up: it’s in those city laneways and carparks that you can really discover the magic.”
Wheat silos and wildflowers
Moving west into WA’s Wheat Belt, something unexpected and quite special has been happening to small-town wheat silos. Commissioned by FORM in partnership with CBH Group, seven groups of 30-metre-high silos – in Northam, Ravensthorpe, Merredin, Katanning, Albany, Newdegate and Pingrup – have been adorned with gorgeous, colourful murals as part of the PUBLIC Silo Trail.
Dipping into hundreds of litres of paint, acclaimed mural artists from around the world looked to WA’s rich natural environment for inspiration: seahorses in Albany, lizards in Newdegate, banksia blooms in Ravensthorpe…
Ravensthorpe itself sits within the 1.5-million-hectare Fitzgerald Biosphere, an internationally significant, biodiverse area containing Fitzgerald River National Park and 20% of WA’s native plant species. A gorgeous gallery of wildflower blooms every spring, the Biosphere has become a tourist destination in its own right.
Scenes from Lake Ballard
Further north in WA’s Goldfields is a truly surprising artwork. At Lake Ballard near Menzies, an adventurous 200km-dirt-road trek north of Kalgoorlie, Inside Australia is an outdoor installation by acclaimed UK artist Antony Gormley. In 2002, Gormley oversaw the placement of 51 mysterious, willowy metal figures across this dry desert lake.
Wandering among them, with dazzling white salt flats underfoot and boundless blue sky above, is disarming and perplexing – an experience you won’t quickly forget.
Aboriginal art encounters
Of course, outdoor art galleries are nothing new to Western Australia’s indigenous peoples, who have been documenting their environment and Dreaming stories at rock-art sites for millennia. Some of the more astonishing examples are the Gyorn Gyorn and Wandjina paintings around the Mitchell Plateau in the Kimberley – a broad collation of 100,000 artworks, arcing back more than 60,000 years.
More-accessible sites are on the Port Warrender Rd into Mitchell River National Park, near the King Edward River at Munurru. Don’t miss ‘Thylacine Rock’, which depicts images of thylacines (aka Tasmanian tigers) which died out on the Australian mainland more than 3000 years ago. There are also accessible sites around Kalumburu, a small community also on the King Edward River; and at the iconic Mitchell Falls in Mitchell River National Park, notably beneath the waterfall at Little Mertens Falls.
If you don’t have time to go exploring, you can check out some Gyorn Gyorn figures in local artworks at the Mowanjum Aboriginal Art and Cultural Centre near Derby.
Washed with WA sunshine, an adventure through the state’s outdoor galleries will leave you tuned-in and connected with city and country.