Meet the Guy Behind Those Posters

Friday June 22, 2018 Written by Koren Helbig

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Our latest frankie press book, Look What We Madecontains an eclectic collection of stories about makers and creators from across Australia. One of them is Adelaide-based street artist Peter Drew.

What’s the best bit about being a street artist?

I love seeing people in public spaces. You turn on the news and watch all these problems tearing the world apart and it’s chaos. But out in the street all these different people are just getting along. It feels miraculous. That’s the space where I want to communicate with people.

How did the ‘Real Australians say welcome’ poster project come about?

I promised to make 1000 posters that said 'Real Australians say welcome' and go to every major Australian city sticking them up. I was inspired by the second verse of our national anthem, which states: 'For those who’ve come across the seas / We’ve boundless plains to share / With courage let us all combine / To Advance Australia Fair.'

How do you respond to criticism?

People like to say, “Don’t listen to the haters,” and it’s terrible advice. You should really listen to the people who strongly disagree with you and see the world in a different way. Because if you’re not, you’re not learning.

How has the project evolved?

After 'Real Australians say welcome', I did a poster for a man called Monga Khan. He has a red turban, a big moustache – he doesn’t look like your typical Aussie. But his photograph was taken in Australia in 1916 for his exemption to the White Australia Policy, so I put “Aussie” underneath his portrait. The core of that project is that national identity is malleable, based on who we choose to identify with. It can easily be reformed – that’s the job of culture, of artists and writers, and every single one of us who chooses what stories we pass on to the next generation.

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How do you make your posters?

I built my screen-printing rig from pieces from Bunnings. It’s not very complicated, but everyone here thinks it’s pretty cool. I take a screen with mesh on it, put a photosensitive gel over it, lay an image on top, then hit it with UV light to wash out where the image was. The screen goes into the rig, you put a line of paint across it and then use a squeegee to push the paint through to a piece of paper on the other side. Then I dry each paper and stack them.

Can you make a living from all this?

The poster projects don’t pay the bills – they weren’t really designed to. I also make videos for people, save up a bit. I like focussing on someone else’s story and spending time away from myself, because it builds your hunger. To execute a really large project, you have to really want it. It helps to put it off for a while and notice how persistent the need to create is.

Read more of Peter’s story in Look What we Made, available here.

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Photography: Andre Castellucci