Mongolian street art by Heesco
Street art, minorities and Mongolian stories

Six hundred kilometers outside of Melbourne, the Mongolian street artist Heesco (Khosnaran Khurelbaatar) is painting a thirty meter tall grain silo. He has been commissioned to capture the memories and history of the local community by portraying traditional farmers at work. The silo is just Heesco’s latest installation in a career spanning two decades, a career filled with innovation and support for the cause of oppressed people.

5 weeks to paint a giant silo. What is it for?

Silo art is the hype now in Australia. 50 silos have been painted so far and I painted five of them. Each region has its own unique history, so I work with farmers to portray their most valued memories.

Another goal of silo art is to bring people into rural areas. Silos are in small towns of two to three thousand people. These towns are facing problems with declining residency and aging populations. We want people to come to visit the town. It’s kind of a tourist attraction. Lately, no one can travel overseas for holidays and a lot of Australians travel within Australia. These towns are part of the Silo Art Trail, which is now a big attraction. People follow the map to see the artwork, and in the process discover the towns as well. A lot of retired people (called grey nomads because of grey hairs) take their van and travel this route.

Each artwork takes a year to plan and organize. It is usually publicly supported, so the funding can take some time. Before it goes up, authorities put the design on display for the public to vote and express their opinion.

Heesco silo art

How is the Australian street art scene?

There are a lot of artists. I am quite fortunate because other street artists open doors for many people too. Melbourne is very supportive and has a long graffiti history. It’s a good environment for creators in general. A lot of people support each other. It’s competitive but it’s a healthy competition. If I am painting next to these famous guys, I need to show them that I can do better, and other people can do even better which drives the community to expand and innovate.

Street art - Heesco

Born in Mongolia but living in Melbourne. How did the transition happen?

I lived in UB until 1999. Then I I came in Melbourne to study. I started with English language. Then business. Then I actually went to art schoolJ. I studied fine arts, painting and print media in Sidney. After university I stayed and worked. As an artist Mongolia is still not an easy place to make a living.

Back in the nineties it was even harder. I am from the generation of kids who had more possibilities to study overseas. Especially compared to the previous generation who almost didn’t have that.

It took me a while to establish myself in street art. When I moved to Melbourne in 2010, I started painting walls and met a whole bunch of artists. I learned a lot from those guys and remain very grateful for that. When I left Mongolia there was no such community, but coming back many years later I could it starting to grow. It was difficult to get good paint in Mongolia, we could only find shitty Chinese paint. Over the years it has changed. You can get decent paint now.

Spray painting is not something you can learn in school or through courses. You learn it on the streets by watching other guys showing you countless little tricks. When I come back to Ulaanbaatar I never miss the chance to share some tips and organize workshops. In that sense I believe I contribute to the Mongolian art scene.

Heesco painting

What is the message behind your work?

It comes from different things. I am not the guy who can sit and produce same style of work over and over. Many artists have a signature style. I tried this method and I get bored very easily.

If I am doing something realistic, next thing will be something completely abstract or cartoony. I like to be challenged. When you try to be creative, you need to be interested in it, be stimulated and feel the urge to be excited to create. I just follow that. If something excites me I just go straight away to try.

Finally it goes in cycles. You do something realistic, then abstract, illustrative, typography, photos. Then it goes back to realistic painting again. I studied contemporary art based on ideas. Based on concepts. Based on research. All that knowledge is still present.

I am just not a big fan of galleries. I didn’t grew up with these high end fancy galleries, commercial collectors and art dealers. It’s very foreign to me.

What are your passions/inspirations?

When you are an artist, I don’t think you ever stop thinking about art. You constantly look for that idea or something that you could use or develop. Ideas can come from books, photos, podcasts or conversations with other artists. Hanging out, exploring, discussing ideas or arguments is very important.

Everything leads to the central idea: “what can I do in my art”. I am a full time artist, it’s a job. It’s a hobby which I never really set aside. My kids inspire me a lot too. Seeing the world through their eyes is illuminating.

You have other activities besides painting?

I am involved in charity work, especially in Mongolia with an NGO called Lantuun Dohio. They work with kids in the poor districts of Ulaanbaatar. I met this organization while doing a documentary about Mongolia with a friend called Kevin Flores. We met with this NGO, which was building a center for orphans and sexually abused kids called Magic Mongolia.

Two buildings entirely crowd funded from a huge amount of little donors. The following year when I came back to Mongolia I asked if I could paint some walls there for the kids in this center. We included the kids by asking what they would like to have. Then I brought some spray paint. A mining company provided elevators and we painted the walls with other street artists.

I also work with another NGO called Breathe Mongolia, which works for clean air in Ulaanbaatar. The air is heavily polluted during the winter and cleaner when the spring comes. So people forget about it and nothing changes. Because of this toxic air so many kids are developing problems. So I decided to address that issue through several walls. I painted these in Melbourne and raised international awareness.

Breathe Mongolia artwork

What is your greatest motivation?

During the eighties, we grew up without a lot of stuff. We were poor, we didn’t have fancy clothes, and people were stressed. This experience of scarcity drives me to be productive.

I was educated in the doctrine of communism. I know that world as well. Now I am free to do anything I want and I am still hungry to create. I want to do more and more. Because I feel it can go away. Being artist is not like a permanent job with a steady salary. If I stop, everything stops. I have wife and kids that I support with my work. Plus the more work I do, the more room I have to develop. I want to see what I can do. I still have that excitement like a kid!

Follow Heesco: Website, Instagram, Facebook

Author: Adrien de Ville,

Review: Gregory Greif

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