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DON’T SAY IT, SPRAY IT: STREET ART IN BROKEN HILL

BY Jade Manly | 23-Oct-2017
Located in Far West New South Wales, Broken Hill is a hive of arts and culture. The city’s rich mining history has been captured by a number of notable artists including: Clark Barrett and the late Pro Hart. More recently, the Broken Hill Art Exchange facilitated an Urban Mural Project in partnership with local business owners and interstate artists. Renowned street artists HEESCO, Damien Mitchell and Lisa King, have all left their mark on the Silver City.
Address: Broken Hill, New South Wales, Australia
[JMMuralIMG.jpg] Damien Mitchell's street art entitled 'Young people are the future' and Heesco's interactive mural, both located in Broken Hill. Photographs by Jade Manly
In the summer of 2015, Brooklyn based artist Damien Mitchell was approached by the Broken Hill Art Exchange (or BHAE) to create a mural on the corner of Oxide Street and Wolfram Lane. Mitchell had always wanted to visit Broken Hill.

“When I was asked to come and paint I jumped at the chance,” he says.

“I had always been interested in Broken Hill, not just for its art scene but also as a town with a unique feel and people.”

Mitchell’s mural was inspired by the city’s youth.

“I met these four friends at the PCYC and took their picture,” Mitchell says “This was then the basis for my mural.”

Whilst many of the public artworks in Broken Hill focus on the past, Mitchell decided to concentrate on the future.

“With the town’s extensive history of public art in mind I decided to paint a wall that depicted the next generation of its residents,” he says.

Mitchell’s art making practice involves working from a photograph or sketch which is then enlarged using a grid.

“Almost all the public work I do is created with spray paint,” he says.

The artist believes that public art has the ability to take the viewer by surprise.

“Passers-by can be confronted with ideas and imagery outside of the traditional gallery setting,” Mitchell says.

Mitchell returned to Broken Hill earlier this year and painted an impressive mural of the Afghan Cameleers on the Almiraj Sufi and Islamic Study Centre.

This project was facilitated by the Broken Hill Print Collective and was funded by the Broken Hill City Council who provided a Community Assistance Grant.

The history of Broken Hill and the surrounding regions influenced the creation of this artwork. The mural depicts Bejah Dervish and the Ghan passenger train, which still passes through the Silver City on a regular basis.

During the late 1800s and early 1900s the Afghan Cameleers transported goods to and from Broken Hill. The cameleers provided this service until the 1930’s, due to the invention of the motor car.

When creating public artworks, Mitchell says he takes inspiration from the people and places he encounters.

“Living in New York City a lot of the work I produce there reflects the city and its residents. In Broken Hill, this idea is continued with the mural on Wolfram Lane and the one I completed on the Sufi bookstore,” he says.

During his time in Broken Hill, Mitchell conducted a workshop for students attending the School of the Air. The year five and six students, created a sign or ‘graffiti-style tag’ for their school.

Fellow artist, Heesco Khosnaran (or HEESCO) decided to create a mural in Broken Hill, based on Damien’s advice.

“Damien Mitchell had completed his first mural in Broken Hill. He put me in touch with the guys from the Broken Hill Art Exchange,” he says “I was very excited to work in Broken Hill.”

“It’s Priscilla and Mad Max country, a huge part of Australian culture and history.”

Heesco’s mural was painted on the First State National Real Estate building. The artwork was designed based on feedback from the Broken Hill community, who wanted something bright and energetic.

“I was happy to do something fun that anyone could appreciate and enjoy,” he says.

“I always try and put the views and opinions of the local community first,” Heesco says “While I’ll be gone after finishing the mural, the artwork will stay on.”

Heesco’s mural has an interactive element which was popular amongst Broken Hill residents.

“The guys from First National Real Estate organised a small photo competition,” Heesco says.

The competition encouraged locals to pose with the mural, which includes whimsical elements such as hot air balloons and umbrellas. The overall winners of the competition were Matt and Erin Gear.

Heesco’s work is inspired by his children, art, music and everyday living.

“I just love to paint. It’s become such a huge part of my life now that I think my painting practice is shaping who I am today,” he says.

“Painting murals is a really good way to bring my art directly to the public and it gives me a huge platform to express my craft and ideas.”

Earlier this year, Heesco created a large scale public artwork in the small town of Weethalle, located in New South Wales.

“It was a 22 metre tall silo that was commissioned by Bland Shire Council, and the local residents of Weethalle, a town of 250 people,” he says.

The artwork was unveiled in July this year and Heesco is still receiving messages of congratulations. The project had a huge impact on the Weethalle community.

“The mural has become a tourist attraction which is helping local commerce,” Heesco says.

Heecso recently completed a community mural project in Nhulunbuy, located in Arnhem Land.

“It was a great experience, and a big learning curve into local Indigenous history and culture,” Heesco says.

“Public art is making a big impact over there too,” he says.

Helene Power, co-owner of the Lodge Outback Motel located in Mica Street, registered her business to become part of the Urban Mural Project.

“I liked the idea of getting a mural painted as it creates an experience for the guests,” she says.

The mural was developed by Lisa King, a street artist based in Adelaide, South Australia. Power wanted the mural to reflect the heritage of the residence.

“Lisa did an extraordinary job combining the history of the building with her modern style,” Power says.

The original owner of the residence, Doctor William MacGillivray influenced the design of the artwork.

MacGillivray was a medical professional and keen ornithologist who liked to study native birds. King’s design is loosely based on a photograph of MacGillivray’s daughter Jean.

On 18 February 1920, The Barrier Field Naturalists’ Club was formed in Broken Hill. With his specialised knowledge of local fauna, Doctor MacGillivray was elected as president of the group.

MacGillivray’s residence once contained a makeshift zoo, which was open to the public. The zoo was popular with youngsters in Broken Hill.

In 1932, MacGillivray donated several specimens of taxidermy to the local Technical College. The donation included many species of bird life including a bronze-wing pigeon and a yellow-throated honey eater.

Power believes that the mural is a good form of promotion for the motel, which has received a considerable amount of media coverage.

Power says guests like to take photographs of the artwork.

“It is very trendy to have a mural, especially with the history of public artworks in Broken Hill,” Power says.

Based on his own experience, Heesco believes that public artworks can have a significant impact in regional areas.

“I think, to a small extent, it [public artworks] can shift people’s perceptions, and affect how they feel on a daily basis,” he says.

“In rural towns it’s taken as something unique and special.”

Heesco’s silo art in Weethalle helped to put the town on the map, drawing tourism to the area and boosting the local economy. It is estimated that over 500 people attended the opening of the Silo Art Project.

“I think people in rural areas give much more importance to public artworks than people in big cities, and the works themselves have much more visual impact,” Heesco says.

Damien Mitchell disagrees, and says the impact of public art is based on personal experience, rather than location.

However, Mitchell acknowledges that street art is more common in big cities and people are accustomed to seeing it go up.

“In places like Broken Hill, public art is a great way to begin discussion and connect people,” he says.

“In areas with less public art around, it does stand out,” Mitchell says “I felt that what I was doing was much more appreciated by the locals.”

Whilst public artworks can have enormous benefits, Mitchell warns that street art can also be used as a means of gentrifying an area.

“In other places like New York City it can also be used as a tool of gentrification” he says.

Mitchell says property developers often commission street art in poor areas in an attempt to increase the value of their assets.

Heesco agrees.

“In big cities, there’s a tendency to use public art to gentrify certain suburbs,” he says.

On 20 January 2015, Broken Hill became the first city in Australia to receive a National Heritage listing. This listing recognises the city’s industrial history and geological significance.

Public artwork plays a substantial role in the Silver City, by documenting the history of mining, unionism and notable residents. Familiar faces can be seen on every corner including: Charles Rasp, Percy Brookfield and John Gough.

Street based art initiatives like the Urban Mural Project, foster a sense pride and belonging within the community.

It is hoped that future projects will stimulate the economy and increase tourism to Broken Hill and the surrounding areas.

CELEBRATING 100 YEARS OF BROKEN HILL

In 1982, local artist Clark Barrett was commissioned to create a mural on the Charles Rasp Memorial Library. This community arts project was funded by the New South Wales Premier’s Department and the Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery. The artwork commemorates the centenary of Broken Hill (1883-1983). The mural features John Gough who managed the library from 1971 until his retirement in 1982. Interestingly, Gough’s sister was the talented opera singer, June Bronhill.

THE HISTORY OF LABOUR

Barrett’s mural in Beryl Street, chronicles the history of mining in the Silver City. This community arts project was commissioned in 1986 and emphasises the role of the unions, particularly the Barrier Industrial Council (or BIC). Barrett’s mural recreates a unionist badge featuring Percy Brookfield, a miner who moved to Broken Hill in 1914. Brookfield was both a trade unionist and a member of the Australian Labour Party (or ALP).

KEVIN ‘PRO’ HART: CREATING ART FOR THE PEOPLE

Pro Hart began his career in Broken Hill as an underground miner and locomotive driver. He had an unwavering passion for both art and invention. Hart was a member of the Brushmen of the Bush along with fellow artists: Jack Absolam, Eric Minchin, John Pickup and Hugh Schultz.

Hart is best known for his philanthropy and public artworks. In 1980, Hart created a large scale sculpture of an ant, which is currently situated in the Kintore Reserve, located in Blende Street. The sculpture is inscribed with the words: “Dedicated to the workers of Broken Hill and their struggles to extract the wealth we all live from.”