Taking Art to the Streets
When artist Wilani van Wyk-Smit joined the Mooroolbark Street Art Project, she welcomed the opportunity to challenge herself while also helping her local community. “It took me out of my comfort zone, working on site instead of in my lovely comfy studio,” she said.
Wilani has been drawing ever since she can remember, and studied graphic design in her home country of South Africa. After moving to Australia more than 20 years ago, she opened her own graphic design and web development studio. However, about five years ago, realising that most of her creative work was “very outcomes-based”, Wilani began to seek balance by dedicating more time to her artwork.
While Wilani’s pretty depictions of local flowers add vibrance and splashes of colour to the suburban landscape, for Wilani it was about more than just beautifying the area. To ensure the authenticity of her work, she began researching local botany, and was fascinated by what she found. “I was intrigued by what we see as recorded history of the extinct species—we don’t know exactly what they looked like, because they’re all gone. I found myself wondering if we had missed any of the flora that wasn’t recorded—how many species are there that we don’t even know existed, and what did they look like?”
As part of her journey of discovery, Wilani examined local flowers under the microscope. “I saw that there were so many beautiful textures and lines inside the flowers that you never see. When you dissect them you can see beautiful forms, so I created some designs based on what I saw from species we have at the moment, and some of the recorded history of extinct species.”
“I decided to depict a series of floral artworks in a modern contemporary style, which is not the usual style of historians or botanists,” said Wilani. “For me it wasn’t about capturing reality, it was more about drawing out the viewer’s sense of perception. Nothing is exactly how someone tells the story; there are always multiple perspectives.”
Wilani’s art can be found in Brice Avenue on four concrete bench seats between George Street and Station Street. She will also be extending the artwork to add small pieces on walls around Mooroolbark. “When you walk around you might see a little petal here or a leaf there,” she said. Wilani is one of several artists involved with the Mooroolbark Street Art Project, hosted by Mooroolbark Traders and Community Group in partnership with Yarra Art Rangers, and funded by a Pick My Project Victoria state government grant.
As a local, Wilani has enjoyed interacting with other residents while working on her art. “People have loved what I’ve done and also what the other artists have done. It’s been beautiful to hear their stories—I’ve had some lovely conversations.”