Lemonade: Letters to Art

Sunburnt in the Suburbs

An unassuming set of shops along Gympie Road isn’t the most obvious place to go looking for contemporary Queensland art, but for this solo show by Phoebe Paradise, there’s nowhere more appropriate. Sunburnt in the Suburbs at Pine Rivers Art Gallery is a freewheeling celebration of suburbia with a Surrealist slant.

Works are arranged in a loosely chronological order depicting Paradise’s imaginary streets from morning to night. You enter at about midday and are encouraged to head left and start your excursion from (where else?) your backyard. Past the white picket fence and crisp artificial turf is an interactive magnetic board where you can design your own house. The child-friendly cardboard pieces set the tone: a good percentage of the works here are meant to be played with.

That’s especially clear at one of the show’s standout pieces, Bus Stop (2022). As the name implies, it’s a full-size replica of a typical bus stop, complete with a metal bench, plastic roof, and even posters for a couple of local real estate agents. What pushes the work beyond simple nostalgic reproduction is that you’re requested to vandalise this once-pristine piece of public infrastructure. All kinds and colours of textas and acrylic paint pens are on offer, and any surface you can reach is fair game. Of course, there’s the temptation to add a pirate’s eye patch to a smug fictional house salesman, but most of the bus stop graffiti is random doodles and back-and-forth messages, turning the sculpture into a delightfully silly conversation between people who will likely never meet.

The afternoon section of the exhibit features Melt (2022), a giant ice block that has met a sad fate on the hot footpath, alongside convincingly kitschy signboards for shops in a fictional Pine Rivers Plaza. As the day darkens, the focus shifts back to houses, including the show’s most intricate work, The Castle (2022). A tribute to DIY home renovations, The Castle is a scale model of a cartoonishly slapdash house, or possibly four individual houses stacked on top of each other. On each floor, the design and materials change, but the structure has an overall cohesion, not unlike the tower of a regularly rebuilt medieval castle.

On a wall nearby are Paradise’s most evocative images of Brisbane suburbia. Portraits of a House (2022) is a series of illustrations of individual houses mounted on lightboxes. The drawings span afternoon to evening, and it’s the latter works that truly shine. Neon pink and indigo streaks line the skies, while the fading sun is reflected in car windows and dramatic shadows stretch across front yards. The lightboxes are key, enhancing the violet-hued vaporwave colour palette and blurring boundaries between objects, creating hazy, dreamlike summer evening scenes.

Set at nighttime, Cul de Sac (2022) continues to play with light in a series of etchings on perspex. These houses glow in a perpetual impossible twilight generated by coloured light strips.

From the patterns on cinder block house foundations to the idiosyncratic drawing on a fish-and-chip shop sign, Phoebe Paradise’s version of the gallery’s surrounding suburbs is instantly recognisable, even to newcomers. But this is more than a parochial Pop Art catalogue of things to see in the area. Sunburnt in the Suburbs showcases that rare thing: local art so sharply observed, it feels both specific and universal.

Sunburnt in the Suburbs continues until February 25 at Pine Rivers Art Gallery. Along with the interactive pieces, there are weekend workshops run by the artist herself, where you can learn digital drawing techniques or try painting your own miniature die-cast house to add to the gallery’s tiny suburb. Even the event flyer can be turned into a little house by following the careful cut and fold lines marked on the back.

This breezy approachability belies the talent on display. The show is short on the kind of ironic detachment you might expect given its everyday subjects, but it goes far beyond simple reproduction, too. At their best, these works capture the unreal quality of a too-hot-to-think Brisbane summer day. By gradually dialling up the Surrealism, Paradise distils that vague sensation into artworks that will stay with you long after the weather has cooled down.

Kit Kriewaldt is a freelance editor and writer based in Brisbane.