25 May 2023

Painting the town: Shellharbour graffiti hotspots become works of art during mural festival

| Kellie O'Brien
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Woman painting a building

Sydney artist Helen Proctor will be part of the More Things Like This Mural Festival in Shellharbour on Saturday. Photo: Damien Milan.

Street artist Helen Proctor will draw from her years studying and living in the Illawarra for her large-scale mural during the More Things Like This Mural Fest in Shellharbour this Saturday (27 May).

Four high-profile Australian artists have been engaged to mentor local emerging street artists to collaboratively create artworks in Shellharbour’s graffiti hotspots.

The festival of live painting and music will see Helen as one of the feature artists, painting on the side of the chemist store at 191 Princes Highway, Albion Park Rail.

Since returning from Europe 18 months ago, Helen, who now lives in Sydney, has explored the use of colour and methods of abstraction to depict the emotional nostalgia from a personal connection to a place.

She said she would use her time studying at the University of Wollongong and having her mother and sister previously living in the area as inspiration to achieve this.

“It was kind of like a second home for a while,” she said of the Illawarra.

“So when the opportunity came up, I jumped at it because it’s a beautiful part of the world.”

She said her works were often abstract landscapes usually inspired by places within the area the mural was to be painted.

“From my time living down there, I did a lot of drives down the South Coast and up through Jamberoo and the mountains,” she said.

“When I put murals into an urban landscape, it’s a nice reminder of the nature surrounding that urban landscape.

“I’m from the Blue Mountains and so I love driving up through the escarpment and I think people from that area have the same connection to nature.”

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Helen will be paired with emerging artist Simone Chambers, who grew up in Shellharbour. She will draw from her experience conducting workshops and working with schools during the mentoring process.

“This just stems from how I learned to paint when I was younger and having older artists teach me the tricks of the trade,” she said.

“Being an artist can be quite isolating because you don’t have a guidebook to look up information, so learning from other artists is a big one.

“One of the exciting parts of attending festivals is getting to talk with other artists, learning a bit from them and seeing how everyone else does it.”

The other artists include Ling painting at the bakery in Tongarra Road, Albion Park; Michael Black painting at Hall Lane, Warilla; and Alex Sugar painting at Centenary Auto Parts, 155 Tongarra Road, Albion Park.

Shellharbour Mayor Chris Homer said the artists chosen would deliver a valuable professional development experience for the emerging artists.

“Some artists, such as Ling, have a history with street art,” Councillor Homer said. “We can expect them to mentor and develop the skills of local talent and leave a lasting impact on the walls of Shellharbour.”

The project with Verb Syndicate is an expansion of Shellharbour’s Urban Art Program, which has successfully reduced the incidence of graffiti in hotspot locations, increased community ownership and built a stronger sense of pride in neighbourhoods.

“Locations for this year’s mural project are situated in graffiti hotspot areas,” Cr Homer said.

“In addition, properties were identified as locations that are highly visible and would have a significant impact on community perception of safety.”

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Helen said events such as this helped build awareness and educate the public that not all paintings on walls were graffiti and tags.

“It’s a good way to get artwork seen by the general public who might not go into galleries,” she said.

“Obviously, you can’t help if someone comes out with a spray gun, but I think they understand the work put in and have an appreciation and respect.”

This is the third occasion the festival has been run, with seven sites already featuring murals, including the Oak Flats Interchange, Shellharbour City Stadium, and Albion Park Rail Skate Park.

Helen encouraged people to watch the murals being made to witness the different processes each artist took to create their mural.

“A lot of the time, people want to see the end result, but I think it’s more fascinating to watch the creation in motion,” she said.

”To see how they sketch up and how they create artwork from something on their phone to this huge canvas.”

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