photo-icon Wade Whittington

'Together soon enough': spreading hope through art

Cultural Heart People of Adelaide

In the early morning, before dawn has struck and the birds start to sing, a man wakes up with a fresh face and passion in his soul. The morning air always feels crisp and fresh, even in the centre of the city. An occasional car drives past, people opening their businesses in time for breakfast or driving home from a night-time shift. Apart from the few commuters, the man is in complete solitude, which works as a strangely powerful driving force.

Cloaked beneath a high-vis vest, this bright spectacle somehow makes you invisible to the world. A bucket of glue in one hand and rolls of paper in the other, the man gets to work sticking his posters on the sides of bland, corporate buildings.

The man finds that pre-dawn is usually best time to work, because he can avoid the prying eyes of strangers who have something critical to say about his posters. Today however, he is using the solitude of the early morning for a whole different reason. He needs to work alone, because we all have to be alone right now.

Peter Drew is a 37-year-old artist from Adelaide, Australia. His works of art have been exhibited at the Art Gallery of South Australia and the National Gallery of Australia, though his most prominent work is installed on city streets.

Peter drew in city street
photo-icon Wade Whitington

He displays his art in the form of posters out on the streets, because out on the streets he can say anything he wants to say. But what exactly does he want to say? Usually he has a strong political stance, something that makes people think and brings out a division in the public. Lately however, Peter has taken a different approach when it comes to his art.

Peter drew image

The design for Peter’s most recent poster, ‘Together Soon Enough’, came to him when he had a personal revelation that the current pandemic would be keeping him physically distant from his family and loved ones.

“My wife’s grandmother is from Italy, and every Sunday night she has a big family dinner. I came up with the design on the Sunday night that we realised ‘Oh, we can’t see Mamma, and who knows when we will be able to.’ It suddenly hit me that that was the most important thing about what everybody is going through."

Peter usually comes up with political posters, but he went against going down that path with this project.

“I could see other people doing it and I just don’t think that’s an appropriate reaction to the crisis, at least not initially,” he says.

“All these other people and artists were jumping on the whole ‘Stay Home’ thing, and obviously that’s important, but I didn’t want to tell people what to do. When you’re telling people to do the same thing that the government and authorities are doing, you’re kind of making art redundant in a way, because shouldn’t art be saying something different that authorities aren’t saying? It’s just so negative! We have to stay home, we get it!”
Peter Drew, visual artist

Peter was determined to create a poster which many people could empathise with, and which portrayed the personal difficulties we are all feeling with the current global pandemic. The piece expresses the human need for closeness in times of crisis and gives a message of hope that we will be able to be amongst our loved ones soon enough.

“In a way it is a depiction of the absence of affection and what remains is the need for affection. The figure that is being hugged is made out of negative space, so it’s a person that isn’t there, and it is a pain I guess,” Peter says.

“That closeness is what everybody is missing, and it’d be petulant in a way to respond aggressively and angrily. I think ultimately, the best can come out of people in a situation like this because all of the petty anxieties in life really get brushed aside and you have this excuse to behave well in a sense.”

He says, “What’s very ironic is the need to distance in order to protect the ones we love and that’s a difficult thing to come to terms with.”

Peter has been known to work alone, loving the feeling of sneaking around at night and acting like a kid again. He has travelled all over Australia sticking up his posters in previous projects, but this time he has had to take a different approach in asking for people to help him spread his message.

Peter drew with posters in bag
Peter drew portrait
Peter drew with bucket and ladder resize

All photos by Wade Whittington, courtesy of PETER DREW.

“It’s more appropriate in a way because it’s such a universal theme right now, so I think it’s completely appropriate to open it up to everyone who wants to get involved. I have been able to stick the posters up a bit in Adelaide but not a huge amount. I’ve really been relying on people to share it online, and that’s working,” he says.

Even though Peter wants his poster to maintain a sense of relevancy as it ages, he doesn’t mind it being wed with this moment in time. 

“The truth is, our kid’s generation or our grandkid’s generation, they’re not going to care about any of our stories about this because it’s kind of uneventful in a way. Obviously, it feels like a big pandemic now, but it’s not a sort of cataclysm event to take a picture of or anything. So, where art and culture come in to kind of document and memorialise, and capture these thoughts and feelings in a way that we can remember because it teaches us to be prepared and to change the way we live in order to make sure, and hope that, it doesn’t happen again.”

Overall, what Peter wants most of all is to inspire people to be happy and to give them a sense of hope.

“I think when someone sees a poster like that it hopefully speaks to a part of them that is already inside them that hasn’t been given voice. So, I can imagine in this situation people are carrying around a certain sort of sadness because they can’t be with the ones they love. I think that it’s good to know that we are all feeling something similar, and that that’s what is important, not who to blame for this situation. Because the truth is there might not be any one person or any system, or any thing that we can throw our blame at. Besides, that’s not what is immediately important; What is immediately important is we are missing the ones we love, and that holds us together as a people.”

This article has been published through a collaboration between the City of Adelaide and the University of South Australia aimed at sharing stories of the city and showcasing the work of emerging local writers.

Discover more engaging stories penned by aspiring Adelaide writers.

The views, information, or opinion expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Corporation of the City of Adelaide.

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Article by

Elisabeth Marie

Elisabeth Marie

Elisabeth is a 20-year-old student from Adelaide, studying a Bachelor of Journalism and Professional Writing and a Bachelor of Arts (English and Creative Writing) at the University of South Australia. She has articles published for Adelaide Food Central, What’s On In Adelaide and City of Adelaide. She loves literature, adventuring, learning new things and relaxing with her cat, Sabba.