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Australian artist who painted McKinney Silos wants people 'to see themselves in it.' For one local teen, it's impossible not to.

An Australian artist took more than 5,000 photographs and met with residents at local events over several months to come up with the concept for the mural.

MCKINNEY, Texas — Drive up Texas Highway 5 through McKinney and you'll notice something new just as you get to Downtown: The historic 100-foot-tall concrete silos here have been transformed into a canvas for Australian artist Guido van Helten.

Soon after he was hired by the city to create the backdrop to its new Municipal Community Complex, van Helten came to research the city and its people. He understood the size of the job he was tasked with. Painting the five large cylindrical silos here was a big ask both literally and figuratively.

"I tell [people] I have a very strange job," Guido said with a laugh. "I'm very particular about colors and shapes and forms."

To help conceive his design, the Australian artist took more than 5,000 photographs around McKinney, and regularly met with residents at local events over the course of several months. 

For van Helten, it was important that his work capture the essence and heritage of the Collin County county seat.

"In history we can look... this was a separated community," van Helten said. 

The silos represent that pretty clearly. They stand in a spot several people have dubbed "the entrance of the east side." The east side, historically, has been home to McKinney's Black and Brown families.

He would ultimately settle on one picture to be the focal point of his mural -- a snap he grabbed of 15-year-old Zoe King during a Juneteenth event held in town. 

King didn't know her picture was being taken at the time -- but, looking up at the finished project that carries her visage these days, the humble and smart teenager described the look on her face as a "thoughtful glance."

Van Helten said he likes to think of her facial expression as more open to interpretation. Those who take in his completed work are up to that task, it seems.

"She's a giant," said Lisa Washington, who came by every other day with her mother Brenda Jackson to see developments of the mural. "I can always look back, and now I'm looking forward -- that's what I get out of it."

Said McKinney City Council Member Justin Beller of his take on the mural: "I see a celebration, and I see a girl inviting us to join in that celebration. That's what's great about public art; we all see something different."

Van Helten used a compilation of other photos to fill out the other silos. In all, some two dozen other people are also represented -- albeit mostly in the background, their backs to the viewer.  

"There's a whole community here, and there's depth to it," van Helten said. "It's a subjective painting, but who is standing the most tall and the most proud?"

Tall and proud though she stands, King was unaware even of the mural until her father noticed it one day himself. Now, the Kings drive by the mural every day, always certain to steal a glance as they pass by.

"This made me realize how much McKinney is my home," King said. "It's almost like a new kind of beginning to this side of McKinney."

The city had the ultimate goal to preserve and celebrate art and culture of the communities in the area. But to several people in the community, the mural is a perfectly placed invitation to merge both the east and west sides of the city. 

"I want people to see themselves in it," van Helten said of his work. "There is no lie in those images. This is McKinney."

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