Seadragon silo mural project complete and catching the eye in Albany
“Left. Left. Up a bit. OK, stop. That’s it.”
It’s unusually hot for Albany, and Singaporean street artist Sheryo is standing in the blazing sun in high-viz, hour after hour repeating variations of the above statement into a mobile phone.
The sing-song quality of her voice gives the diminutive artist the air of a monk reciting a prayer mantra, or a drill sergeant directing a forced march.
The latter has some truth to it because, on the other end of the phone line, Sheryo’s partner and artistic collaborator, Yok, is perched 30m up on a boom lift, following her every instruction to the letter.
With each definitive “stop” Sheryo utters at ground level, Yok dabs black paint on the silos of the CBH Group’s Albany Grain Terminal, slowly tracing the outline of a mysterious marine creature.
From his close proximity to the silos, the scale and curvature of the “canvas” makes it impossible to visualise the intended design of the work, so Sheryo serves as his eyes.
Slowly but very deliberately, the creature grows, spreading across the four silos to eventually stand 35m high and 50m wide.
It is destined to become the latest instalment of the Public Silo Trail, a sequence of super-sized murals that winds through the Wheatbelt to the bottom of the WA.
The trail itself is an initiative by FORM, the not-for-profit cultural organisation responsible for much of the large-scale street art in the CBD.
With the outline complete, Yok and Sheryo spend a total of 17 days and 180 litres of paint rolling colour onto silo walls, sharing the boom lift as easily as they’ve shared their lives since meeting by chance in a Singapore bar eight years ago.
Well, maybe not quite as easily.
“When you are rolling the wall, and you are pushing paint on the wall, you are also pushing yourself away from the wall and it starts to sway,” Yok says.
“It’s like being on a boat, it takes a while to get used to being on solid ground again.”
“I even dreamed about rolling the wall,” Sheryo adds.
At some point in the process, locals realised it wasn't a mural that paid homage to the town’s significant Anzac heritage, nor was it the marine creature that put Albany on the map — the whale.
The Albany Advertiser reported this week the Brooklyn-based artists had “divided” local opinion.
It creates a dialogue, whether you like it or don’t like it, it’s a conversation.
But it seems appropriate the creature on the silos, a ruby seadragon, was initially shrouded in mystery considering it was largely unknown to science before 2015, save for a handful of preserved specimens that had been collected by accident over the past 100 years.
When researchers captured the first live video of one of these creatures in the Recherche Archipelago in 2016, it was the first new seadragon species discovered in the wild in 150 years.
“I quite like hearing that people wanted other things,” Yok says.
“It’s a bit more confronting to do something unexpected but we wanted to celebrate something lesser known and draw attention to the marine biodiversity of the region and the conservation of the oceans.”
“It creates a dialogue, whether you like it or don’t like it, it’s a conversation,” Sheryo offers.
“And if you did an Anzac they’d ask for a seadragon.”
The finished work is a playful representation of the real animal, in-keeping with the aesthetic of both artists, which has been honed across a number of high-profile commissions around the world, and countless walls sprayed for street art’s sake.
“It’s our take on the world, we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” Sheryo confirms.
FORM executive director Lynda Dorrington says Yok and Sheryo’s seadragon design was chosen for the site by a selection panel that included representatives from CBH and the City of Albany.
“The artwork was chosen due to its site specific nature, impact of design and the professional and practical capability of the artists,” Dorrington explains.
“Having a significant artwork on a piece of Albany’s agricultural architecture means that we are not only highlighting the importance of Albany’s industrial and agricultural heritage, but we’re also linking one of the State’s key southern cities into what we hope will become a very alluring visitor attraction for WA.”
FORM is currently a few years into a partnership with Albany that has also seen Western Power substations in the town painted by notable WA artists and, in October, will culminate with British artist Bruce Munro’s Field of Light installation at the Avenue of Honour to commemorate the end of World War I.
“We believe we can demonstrate the capacity of arts and culture to enrich tourism in the regions, but it also has to enrich the lives of the people who live and work there too,” Dorrington says.
The arts organisation’s goals for regional WA align with that of its partner for the silo trail, CBH Group.
CBH chairman Wally Newman said the silo art project contributed to the vitality of WA’s grain growing towns by encouraging visitors “to our beautiful regions”.
“The artworks have been referenced in many travel guidebooks and are becoming well attended tourist attractions, and this is providing an economic benefit to regional WA communities,” Newman says.
While admitting Yok and Sheryo’s seadragon was a “unique take on the region”, Newman appreciates the finished work.
“It’s a great piece of art that reflects the marine culture and history of Albany,” he says.
“It certainly has the town talking, which is what great art is supposed to do.”
Sheryo and Yok, the latter a surfer born in Perth, who came to Albany as a kid, say they are “so privileged” to join FORM’s other silo artists — a list that includes HENSE, Amok Island and Kyle Hughes-Odgers.
But, with their seadragon finished and consigned to art critics, both of the professional and amateur variety, the couple is already thinking about the next job, decorating the entrance of an arts festival in New York.
And then a commission in Los Angeles. Then another in Seattle.
However, they baulk at the idea it all sounds suspiciously like a real job.
“It’s an endless spraycation,” Sheryo laughs.
Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.
Sign up for our emails