Lemonade: Letters to Art

Jo Breneger + Julie Paterson: Postcards from here

“It’s not easy to sit still and watch the world roll by,” wrote Jo Breneger on the back of a handmade postcard dated 2 February 2022—exactly a year to the day before the exhibition, Postcards from here, opened at Side Gallery. The result of a year-long collaboration between Breneger, her friend and fellow artist, Julie Paterson, curator Laura Brinin and Side Gallery, this show is a masterclass in quiet observation and a delightful reminder of the near-forgotten joys of slow communication. On display is a collection of a hundred or so small still-life scenes: moments carefully observed by the artists from their unique vantage points and captured in images and words over the course of this year-long project on improvised ‘postcards,’ all of which have travelled some distance via the post to this address: 7 Emma Street, Red Hill QLD 4059.

Like analogue snapshots from a time before Instagram, these are quick, impressionistic images sketched lightly in acrylic, gouache or watercolour and sometimes in ink, pencil or crayon—whatever the artist happened to have nearby, it seems, when they stumbled on a moment worth sharing and remembering. The cards, too, are improvised from discarded stuff: cut up boxes, offcuts of board, the foam-core lining of a chocolate box, and even pre-used Japanese postcards have been creatively repurposed as postable objects. On their reverse sides, the artists paint an equally vivid picture in words: just a few handwritten lines are enough to transport you to a shared moment in time. With their colourful turns of phrase, poetic musings, scratched-out mistakes and liberal spatterings of exclamation marks, and adorned with cute doodles and xxx’s for kisses, these notes feel like they were written just for you by a treasured friend on a faraway adventure. You can’t help but smile.

Viewing and handling these rough-cut fragments of life brings a sense of wellbeing along with a nostalgia for simpler times. The range of textures, weathered surfaces, and traces of their former lives and postal journeys add layers of story to these tiny works. Officially stamped and postmarked, they are anchored in time, evoking collective as well as personal memories. Against the slick gloss and bewildering speed of the information age, these artefacts of slow communication are a like a balm for the soul; as an antidote to mass hyperconnectivity, they offer a comforting sense of simple, human connection.

The artists’ close observation of small moments, conveyed playfully on the most unpretentious of materials, brings us closer to the details of our own lives. They ground us with a meditative quality that reminds us of the need to sit still, stay focussed, and really pay attention as we watch the world go by. As Jo observed, that’s not easy to do amid the constant flux of distractions we live with, when world events seem relentlessly negative and increasingly urgent. “It’s hard to stay focussed when such suffering is happening all over the place,” wrote Julie on Tuesday 22 March 2022, followed by a compassionate reminder to take care and be kind. And that’s the power of these works: as small, seemingly insignificant acts of care, kindness, and friendship, they have travelled the world and passed through many hands. There’s a sense of the miraculous in the postal process itself, which is testament to the power of cooperation—how astonishing that something so small and flimsy can travel so far and arrive safely at its destination! I imagine postal workers sorting through a stream of nondescript envelopes, pausing to enjoy these delightfully quirky and whimsical cards and smiling to themselves or perhaps laughing out loud as they read the scrawled musings and anecdotes addressed to no one in particular. This project has literally spread joy around the world, and the thought of that makes me smile.

At Side Gallery last Thursday evening, the joy continued as the artists regaled guests with memories and insights from the project in a lively panel talk with curator Laura Brinin. As Laura remarked, these are tiny works with huge stories behind them, and, in this sense, they resemble the Gallery itself. Established in 2015, Side is a small commercial gallery in Red Hill offering exhibition space and curatorial support for emerging and established artists. From Side, visitors can walk through to owner Leesa Hickey’s design agency, Designfront, in the adjoining space. Here, they can view Leesa’s personal collection, which includes many works by past exhibiting artists. It’s a fitting space for an exhibition celebrating connectedness, friendship, and the joy of sharing simple pleasures, and well worth a visit to view ‘Postcards from here.’

Angela Timbs writes, researches, and facilitates conversations on art, culture, and community.