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The Postcard Collector

11 February 2015

Do you remember when post used to be exciting? That feeling when you were little of the world coming through your door and bringing who-knew-what adventures and ideas. Nowadays, my post is almost always made up of bills or junk mail, or there’s no post at all, because anything of interest comes via email.

Postcards remain the one bright spot in this bleak outlook: a little rectangle of colour and life comes winging its way from a friend on holiday, bringing warmth, relaxation and treasures to be discovered. I love receiving postcards, but I also love sending them. Picking out that perfect view of the city, that quirky detail, quotation or particularly striking work of art helps to crystallise for me what I’m going to take away from an experience.

That’s also because I’m an inveterate – but often disappointed – buyer of postcards. I find it hard not to leave an art exhibition with a handful of choice works in my pocket, but almost always find that the particular work that struck me has not been chosen for the postcard selection. You might say that it’s all online now anyway, so what does it matter? But there’s something about having that small physical piece of art to hold in your hand, which makes postcards an endless treat. You can have your own group of masterpieces to display, categorise and treasure, if you have a postcard collection.

It is this combination of the everyday and the extraordinary in a simple postcard that appealed to me about Postcard Wall, a new initiative by journalist and curator Sophie Hill. She plans to make 2015 the ‘year of the postcard’, sharing a different card each day through a blog and Twitter account, and curating a series of pop-up exhibitions across London. There’s something wonderfully personal and simple about each day’s postcard appearing on Twitter alongside the daily specimens or artworks uploaded by many museums.

The first pop-up display is in Mario’s Café, a delightful small coffee shop in Kentish Town on Kelly Street, which is well worth a visit in its own right as a charming cul-de-sac of brightly painted Victorian terrace houses. Mario’s is a single long room with tables down each side, where currently every wall is home to rows of postcards. Unlike the simple numerical order on the blog – one postcard for each day of the year – the pop-ups are arranged by theme. Each card is accompanied by a personal text by Hill that seeks to act as a window into each work.

This time over 100 cards celebrate the artist as traveller, focusing on Italian and Parisian artists, or those who travelled to these hubs to study, as well as a selection of works that more broadly consider space and place. As you sit drinking your coffee or eating your lasagne, surrounded by the bustle of the café, you find yourself gazing at a Rubens accompanied by da Vinci, Sargent, Schiele and Klimt; Monet, Velázquez, Rosetti, Zurbarán, or Michael Landy; Reynolds, Degas, Miró, Gaudier-Brzeska, Cartier-Bresson, Banksy and Gauguin. All art is here, and this is a delightfully engaging way to encounter it.

Sophie Hill’s first ‘pop-up postcards’ display is at Mario’s Cafe, Kentish Town, London, until 18 February.