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News | 19.09.2023

Urban Art in Pforzheim with Guido van Helten

Art is long! And our life is short.

In the German Baden region of Pforzheim, internationally renowned artist Guido van Helten has created an impressive piece of urban art that delves into the history and character of the city. The Australian artist, originally from the graffiti scene, has been using products from KEIM for years to create his facade paintings, primarily due to their durability and high colour stability in outdoor environments.

In Pforzheim, there could hardly be a better location for public art than Dietlinger Straße 8. Attention is guaranteed here: The residential building faces a heavily trafficked intersection, where two four-lane roads converge. Anyone waiting at the traffic lights, whether in a car, on a bicycle, or by foot, inevitably gazes at the 10 by 14-meter mural spanning four stories up to the roof ridge. Moreover, there is an S-Bahn station on the railway embankment just behind the intersection, allowing passengers to view the mural even from an elevated position.

The work is part of an initiative through which the city of Pforzheim aims to promote Street Art and Urban Art. The City Council has tasked the administration with making this art form visible in the urban space with high-quality works and renowned artists, aiming to provide cultural participation opportunities to as many people as possible. In January 2022, curator Regina Fischer was entrusted with the leadership of the "Pforzheimer Fassaden" project. She initially created a long list of 11 regional, national, and international artists. A jury then selected five individuals from this list, inviting them to submit a design. Subsequently, the jurors chose two winners, each of whom was given the opportunity to work on a facade.

Guido van Helten, the Australian artist selected for the Dietlinger Straße project, has a background deeply rooted in traditional graffiti movements. Growing up in the inner city of Melbourne, he was influenced by these movements and began actively using spray paint during his youth. After earning his Bachelor of Visual Arts degree with a focus on printmaking from Southern Cross University, he transitioned to large-scale mural painting. Today, he operates globally, not only in Australia but also in the United States, Jordan, India, and numerous European countries.

Van Helten's work is highly figurative and site-specific, meaning he delves into the history and ambiance of a location. He creates highly realistic portrayals of people based on photographs he takes during his research on the community at each site.

In early January, van Helten embarked on an approximately two-week exploration in Pforzheim. Armed with a sketchbook and camera, accompanied by the curator and the team from the cultural department, he engaged with hundreds of individuals, visited museums, and other institutions to learn about the city's history. He was particularly captivated by the tradition of jewelry making in the "Goldstadt" (Gold City) and the remarkably strong destruction and subsequent reconstruction of Pforzheim after World War II, which continues to shape the city's landscape today. There is scarce historical architecture left, replaced by an abundance of 1950s-era buildings. The artist's interest was so profound that he extended his stay to participate in all the commemorative events on February 23rd, marking the devastating bombing night of 1945.

In May, van Helten ascended a cherry picker at Dietlinger Straße 8 and created his artwork on the windowless gable wall. He keeps the technical details of how he achieves these massive photorealistic portraits on facades a secret. However, he is more than willing to share the types of paints he prefers to use. Since he noticed that some of his early works began to fade under sunlight, he turned to KEIM products known for their durability. KEIM Concretal-Lasur and KEIM Soldalit are well-suited for the mineral substrates of his wall paintings, and they align with his technique, closely related to watercolour painting, where multiple translucent layers of colour overlap.

Because mineral paints don't create a film on the surface but instead 'bond with the substrate, van Helten takes advantage of the absorbent properties of concrete, masonry, or plaster to produce delicate, permeable layers of colour. He achieves the smooth transitions and subtle shading in his large-scale works through a combination of brushwork, airless spraying, and HVLP (high-volume, low-pressure) spraying. The warm golden evening light in which the artist has bathed his mural pays homage to Pforzheim's reputation as the "Goldstadt" (Gold City).

Guido van Helten expresses particular pride in his mural in Pforzheim because it allowed him to gain a deep understanding of the place's history. The local population has responded positively to the work: While he was working on the facade, people in passing cars would often wave to the artist and give him a thumbs-up. Even two elderly pedestrians in their eighties had favorable comments. It appears that the City Council's concept of creating an accessible cultural offering through Urban Art is indeed resonating with the community.

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