Monday, 20 June 2016

InDefenceOfPublicSculpture

In defence of public sculpture

Whenever a writer, an artist, an architect or any practitioner of the arts places his or her work in the public domain there will always be those who like it and those who don’t. This can result in controversy. If artists were to respond to every criticism they would never create anything.

In all fields of life there is so much more beyond our own experience. It is the artist’s job to show the way by courageously exploring the new. In my view, liking an artwork is not really what matters. It’s more a question of how art challenges us or finds a way to speak to us, to open up a new awareness.
I remember a public sculpture by Ron Robertson Swan designed for the Town Square in central Melbourne. The sculpture, accepted by the Council, was vilified by then City of Melbourne Mayor who, using art as a political football, renamed it the ‘yellow peril’ from ‘the vault’. This new ‘title’ stuck and shaped the general public’s response to the art work. Is there, I wonder, a role for our leaders to guide citizens into an understanding of new artworks?
All this says less about the quality of art and more about people who stoke the flames of artificially created controversies. They have not done the work, have not taken the risks, their lives and livelihood are not bound up at every moment with what they are making, who have given thought to the medium or the method. Artists take risks by exposing their ideas in the public realm. At every moment their lives are bound up with whatever they are making, with exploring new boundaries.
Many years ago I designed a work for Swanston Street Melbourne- a shard of architecture emerging out of the pavement- may hated the idea, thought it was inappropriate and expressed these sentiments even before the work was installed. However, I persevered and the council saw its merit even if not many amongst the populace did. In time, the work was installed and has since grown to become one of Melbourne’s icons plus a well loved sculpture.
Over the years the sculpture has gained popularity and received awards locally and internationally: a Melbourne newspaper poll voted it the most popular sculpture in town. Recently it was included in an internet survey of the top 25 creative sculptures around the world. The prestigious magazine ‘Architectural Digest’ included ‘Architectural Fragment’ as one amongst eleven of the most fascinating sculptures in the world.

I remember the hullabaloo created by citizens of Melbourne when plans for that huge sculpture, which is Federation Square, were made public. Since then it has become one of the most loved and popular meeting places in the land. The new and change are always challenging. But without change and the new we would still be in the dark ages.

There were similar controversies surrounding the Sydney opera house, another iconic blend of architecture and sculpture that now, along with Uluru, is the image representing Australia to many around world.     

Arts advisory panels exist all around the world promoting creative endeavours within their communities, connecting past, present and future, opening our eyes to things we may not see, unlocking rooms that may be closed within us, helping to make meaning of our lives and, in the words of Anne Michaels ‘to find a way to make beauty necessary and a way to make necessity beautiful’.

I will leave you with the following thought. During the Second World War, Winston Churchill’s finance minister said Britain should cut arts funding to support the war effort. Churchill’s response: “Then what are we fighting for?”

petrus

       

Sunday, 19 June 2016

ThoughtsOnAWintersday

 

a beautiful visual moment to savor

 

thoughts on an introspective winter’s day


It is interesting that it takes the experience of the start of the ‘forever sleep’ of one person to awaken another. Following one such event, this question arrived for me. Am I using the days I have left well? Like today for instance. A normal everyday day, but with a difference. It is one of those glorious early winter days. A fresh clear morning followed by a warm sunny day. How do I spend such a day well. Enjoy it? Realising that it is happening? Acknowledging it? I decided to take notice of the seasons and start this exercise by giving these moments of wonder some attention.

The Rain has washed the trees dustless, creating in the green a vibrancy which can be felt. The type of vibrant green just before autumn turns it golden. The sun shines gently warm and the blue of the sky has a soft edge. A seemingly perfect background for the grey thrush, with a song so clear, with a sound so clean, with a melody so charming, with a resonance so wide and overwhelming as to fill up, to the point of the divine, the whole of the moment. A moment of wonder. Drink this moment, hold it close to your heart.

Light and death

Each day contains some magic, all we need to do is open our eyes to it and jump aboard while it passes by. How could we not take notice, How could we deny this. Why else are we here. Ride the beauty of the moment so that, when just before being placed in our own box, we will not feel any ‘regret’. (Regret is and has always been an absolute waste of time. There are so many better ways of using the moment.)

As the other evening a little before sunset. I watched at the edge of a foreign lake while an empty old wooden boat, on fire, floated slowly on the still water mirror. A fisherman cremating his past. A moment filled brimful with poetic content. A sight where, for the moment, nothing else was needed. I hold this moment close to my heart.

Life and dark

As the other morning, the sky the colour of slate, clouds so low the tops of the trees in the forest were invisible. As if the trees were suspended from the clouds. From this grey space huge colourful flowers dropped onto the ground, only to rise again a little later to re-enter that same space of nothingness. Fluttering feeding Rosellas. I held this moment in both hands.

None of this needs any economic rationale or development to be appreciated, rather, it needs a tiny shift in attitude, or a smack in the head such as the death of a dear one, when all of a sudden a few things become clear. As clear as a drop of dew mirroring our dreams, and the immense size of the world filled with moments of wonder. A world so much bigger than our concerns.

Light and death

I take notes from one of my teachers. A big fat white goose, who lives on the pond at the bottom of the garden. After all, when all is said and done, she finishes up in the same place as we all do. How does she spend her day. She floats upon the water with the grace of a galleon. Then banks and performs the most exquisite ballet-like yoga exercises/stretches. While engaged in this, her shape becomes a living kinetic sculpture. She preens endlessly, then tucks her head under her wing, pulls one leg up under her feather skirt and snoozes her inner landscapes into reality. What is its purpose? What is its meaning?

I also take notice from another one of my teachers. I remember four year old Lutea, my creative guardian, in my garden, who, after having struggled to open a long dark dried bean pod, stands there momentarily wondering unbelievingly at the beauty of a set of six polished purple and black beans lined up inside. Surprise. I try to keep my heart open for moments such as these.

 

Life and dark

I wish not ever to say: “I wish I had…….”.


Petrus           
                                                                                   
art@petrusspronk.com

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

TheArtIgnorant2




a p.s. to my last blog
with an apology to those 
who find it hard to read the red font

just another thought about the work of the panel 
and those in creswick who are busy 
trying to undermine that work

allow me to comfort you dear creswick citizens
with the thought that when i was in the same position 
 designing the 'architectural fragment' 
many hated the idea of a piece of broken architecture 
     in the main street of melbourne, 
but i persevered and won the council over 
although not many of the populace
however, in time, the work got installed 
and has grown into one of melbourne's icons 
and a very well loved sculpture
which over the years has received a few awards 
of being the most popular sculpture in town 
and recently was included in 
the top 25 creative sculptures in the world.
and more recently the prestigious magazine 
architectural digest
 surveyed 11 of the world's most fascinating
sculptures and the fragment was one of them

so, dear citizens of creswick
please hang in there
don't take any notice of those undermining the work
you'll be surprised what will eventuate
when the work is in place and people, 
especially through the eyes of their kids,
will start to enjoy it  

and it will be a much visited and photographed work
 just like my fragment

petrus april 2016





















Monday, 4 April 2016

TheArtIgnorant


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A few thoughts about art and the ignorant

Whenever writer or an artist or an architect, or any practitioner of the arts makes his or her work public there will always be those that like it and those that do not. This will usually result in some sort of a controversy. Therefore if you are engaged in one of those cultural fields you better have a thick skin. Because if you take any notice of these criticisms from the ill informed, you will never create anything.

A case in point is the proposal for the public sculpture for Creswick‘s Calembeen park. With which councillor Henderson is playing childish games, especially since he sat in when the arts panel was deliberating and had a chance to make remarks, and the remarks he made during that meeting where encouraging. Then in last week’s paper the same councillor Henderson who seemed to agree to the choice of the arts panel, since there was no protest from him, when they met to deliberate, is now appearing in the local paper with another sculptor and his lump of cement parading as an alternative sculpture, stating that the locals were unhappy with ‘dearest’, with the ‘local campaigner’ (and what does that exactly mean) Kronenberg, getting in his few bob’s worth by starting the rumour to call the sculpture the wrecking ball and thus undermining the work.

All this says nothing about the art, but plenty about the people stoking the flames of this artificially created controversy. The ignorant, the lazy, the plain confused and ill informed have not done the work, have not taken the risks, whose live and livelihood are not bound up at every moment with what they are making, who have given no thought to the medium or the method but will momentarily glance up from their latte or beer and make their lukewarm statements as if they know about art.

They show the Creswick audience that they can absorb in a few moments, and without any effort the sum total of the artist and his art.

How do you think the artist feels when he, in good faith, puts his idea forward to the arts panel whom, in good faith, deliberated and came to their conclusion, which they then presented to the council. They are only advising and the council makes the final and in this case, the right decision.    

I stated before that as an artist you need a thick skin, it seems that in Creswick as an artist you need an extra thick skin.

Life shrinks and expands in proportion to one’s courage and to be an artist you have to be courageous

Petrus spronk. artist

TakingTheWildOutOffWildlife


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                                                Taking the wild out of wildlife



The morning is autumn, fresh and cool but promising a warm sunny day. All seems well in the world, until a scream tears a hole in the peaceful morning silence. Until a car driving through the forest hits a kangaroo and leaves it, with its joey still in its pouch, lying on the side of the road. The driver, either in a hurry or not caring, or plainly bereft of any feeling, drives on.



Meanwhile the kangaroo and its joey unable to move are discovered by a couple of people, more caring who, on a morning walk along the track, find the kangaroo and desperately want to help. However, since they are from the city and just do not know what to do in such an event, are at a loss of how to deal with it. Having only just passed my house they decide to knock on my door and ask me for advice. Luckily I am home and I know exactly what to do. I call the guardian angels John and Gail, the loving spirits of the local wild life shelter.



Besides acting as doctors for many animals, they are also the ambulance service to collect them, from wherever they are found, plus caring nurses during the time the animals are at their care. Plus more, so much more.



Soon after I call, John arrives and after having examined the damage and sedated the kangaroo places her in his car and takes her home. Here he and his partner Gail will mend the damage and nurse her back to health, after which they’ll release her back into the forest. This is a day and night commitment of being present to collect, give first aid, nurse and care for their charges.



It is here, tucked away in the wombat forest, that John Rowdon and Gail Chappel, both environmental scientists, practice their particular concept of love for animals. Besides the kangaroos, which are the most represented, there are all sorts of animals in need of care. Their place is a veritable zoo. including a variety of birds, wombats, koalas, they even have an emu. Plus a  variety of reptiles.



John and Gail, work, or should I say slave, away and practice compassion and empathy by creating a healing and gentle-life in their wild-life shelter. With much love and even more patience they have worked away for many years to look after wild life which has been damaged by fencing, by cars and more and more by dogs.



During one year, for instance, they responded to 700 calls. There were 140 kangaroos, 32 wallabies, 30 wombats, 32 possums, 5 gliders, 23 koalas, 152 birds, 5 lizards, 3 echidnas, 11 micro bats, plus 1 phascogale. Of those animals 82 were euthanized due to their injuries and 76 died. 276 made it back into the wild.



This number of animals needing care has greatly increased today due to the drought. The animals come closer to where people live, and to the roads on the side of which they like to graze due to the availability of native grasses there, which they favour.



All this begs the question; how do they raise the funds to carry on their remarkable work. The shelter is in need of food, medicines, bandages, potions, syringes and blankets and probably many more costs that I do not know about.



So dear readers let’s get together on this project. If you, just once a week for three weeks, give up a cup of coffee and donate the money thus saved, you would be able to donate $10.00 (tax deductible) per month. Their project is titled WILD500. Because they need 500 people to partake to keep their work alive, which at the moment is mainly funded by the occasional donations and their credit card. And frankly, they deserve better.



This is the info you need to donate to WILD500. Please do it. Contact your bank and direct debit $10.00 per month from your account into the direct deposit at the Bendigo bank. BSB 633-000, Account 148 1 19613, and you can be assured that you are saving precious wild life without you having to lift a finger.



I have signed up to this, I hope you will too.



Petrus

art@petrusspronk.com

Thursday, 3 March 2016

YouDon'tHaveToMakeArtToLiveAsAnArtist

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"You don't have to make art to live as an Artist"



“Life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing”

Helen Keller



It is commonly understood that most students who take art as a subject at school will not become artists. However, I feel that it is also understood that those who attend art classes will have their lives greatly enriched by an understanding of art and by the way they have learned to look and see. This is a great way to experience one’s life since it provides us with a visual appreciation of that which is freely available all around us. Plus it could provide us with an incredible tool for use in dealing with daily problems, creativity.



I remember entering the art room for the first time and experiencing a wonderful feeling of being in a comfortable, yet intense, space. It felt like my space. A space where I could be at home.



I realised that here in this room I could be like a child, (in the context of seeing the world as if for the first time.) no matter how old I was. Play and engage freely with materials to find out what they could do and thus assist me to discover and shape my world.



It was here also that I realised a very important lesson. That learning does not only happen in one’s head. All my learning, as an artist, has initially come from the engagement with the world through my hands. And through my hands my head became involved. Most of my learning has not come about from sitting in a desk, working with my mind/brain only. It has come about from doing. The rather narrow approach of desk learning does, for many students, at times more harm then good.



The art room is, or can be, a place of awakening to another self. A place of wonder and magic. A place where we can develop a sense of love for beauty, a place where we learn to enjoy the world from a visual point of view. A place where we are able to engage with, and possibly practice, the visual poetry of life. A place where we can play, and it is through play that much learning happens. Why do you think babies play all the time? It is the gateway to learning through discovery. Give a child a cardboard box and he or she will be away in play-land, in make believe-land, for ages. Discovering. Learning.



It was here, at the start of life’s journey, in the art room, that I realised that most choices, but career choices especially, were based on one of two ways of thinking. We can either choose for our heart (the love of, or passion for, a certain activity) or for our purse (how much money we will make from our chosen work). If we choose for our heart, we may, may, find happiness. If, additionally, we learn to trust the process we will always be able to take care of ourselves (I have a strong believe that that which has put us here, will also provide.) When, on the other hand, we choose for our purse we can be sure that we will be paying forever, in one way or another.



To get your hands into clay, to move paint around, to take that fantastic photo, to shape the earth, is all working toward the understanding of how to engage the creative spirit in your life.



The creative spirit, the single biggest asset we have.



“I heard a great story recently of a little girl who was in a drawing lesson. She was 6 years old and sitting in the back drawing. She hardly ever paid attention, but in this drawing lesson she did. The teacher was fascinated And went over to the little girl and she asked her what she was drawing and the little girl said: ‘I am drawing a picture of god’. And the teacher said, but nobody knows what god looks like. And the little girl said: ‘they will in a minute.” Sir Ken Robinson



Learning. Meaning to engage the creative spirit.



Take charge.





Petrus



Ceramicist, sculptor and writer

art@petrusspronk.com




Friday, 22 January 2016

TheLongGallery



At the start of a recent journey to Adelaide, I listened to a program about ‘the long paddock’. The strip of grass at the side of the road used during droughts for the grazing of animals. I thought that for my journey, I would look at the side of the road and for this trip call it ‘the long gallery’.


Found Art




I came across a most impressive artwork, near the town of Keith, just across the border into S.A. An installation reaching from horizon to horizon, consisted of huge horizontal fields painted in the most vivid greens. It appeared as if they were illuminated, as if lit from below. This intense green was interspersed with large flat areas of canola yellow displayed under a tightly stretched blue sky. (these fields reminded me of the hard edge paintings of the 60s). In this immense bright space, as far as the eye could see, brilliant piles of blindingly white lime rocks in the shape of large pyramids were placed in a chaotic pattern.  A beautiful and moving work made over many years by hardworking artist farmers. Would they be aware of the intrinsic beauty of these unintended works of their art?

Most of the passages between the individual galleries, which make up this intriguing long gallery, are lined with the woven yellow wool textures, created by numerous craft workers, in the shape and form of wattle trees.

Tunnels of honey sweet golden spring fragrance. This sweet perfume persists right throughout the long gallery, here and there tinged with the localised scent of fresh grass both grown and mown. A glorious addition to the experience.

One of the galleries exhibited a series of the most exquisitely wood block prints of Silky Oak trees in their various manifestations, still, blown about, adorned with rain, dry, summer, winter. These works were expressed in fine spider web like drawings. The type of art Albrecht Durer would create. The black and white compositions stood out especially under a ceiling painted with galleon like clouds in the colours of the sunrise painted on silk.

The doorways between each gallery were arched and bridge like, solid stone and steel. Each one had, on the top of the bridge, a video installation, showing the sky with traffic passing on it. Effective, clever, and surrealist in feeling.

During my journey I came across numerous Sculpture Galleries. There seems a three dimensional spaciousness to these particular exhibitions. In one of the galleries there was only one work on display. It was massive. On a line patterned plain, arose a wonderful arrangement of dark rocks. Both elegant and strong. Studied simplicity. Images of the famous Japanese rock gardens came to mind, only much larger. The interesting aspect in this exhibit was an additional arrangement of clouds obscuring the very top of the rock arrangement. Besides the hard/soft contrast of the composition, the more intriguing aspect of this work was the fact that the top part was unseen. Our imagination was motivated to finish this work. Strong Grampians Art.

In another sculpture gallery two cars, in a close and final lover’s embrace, present a horrific still life. Very still. The engine block of one cuddled in the back seat of the other. Steering wheels around each other like caressing hands. Cracked headlights staring brokenly eye to eye. Steam hisses from the bend intertwined fenders. Final Hot Kiss. The visitor walks on broken glass. There are body parts and lots of the colour red is splashed about. The work is lit with flashing spotlights. Still life taken in, I move on.

Like most art galleries in this one I also found some another type of art, off-putting art, ‘lump’ as art. I refer here to a lump of dark grey concrete titled: ‘The Big Koala” It sits on the side of the road and people enter into it through its crutch. What are they looking for? What is it with this culture and the BIGGEST off everything? 

At the end of the long gallery I am rewarded with a remarkable installation. Painted against a backdrop of a South Australian spring blue sky I came across an installation titled: ‘The Adelaide hills in Spring’. A beautiful and intense work in many nuances of green, dotted with stunning displays of tree blossoms in pink and white. Memories of cherry blossom tours into the hills during the seventies. The whole washed in ethereal light, colour splashed freely about and all that to the soundtrack of the inevitable choir of magpies.

Upon my return, I am welcomed home with various messages written in the deep sun-tanned bronze calligraphy of fallen pine needles etched in the black wet forest paths.

At home, the silent still-life of the moonlit blossom of my garden’s plum tree took my breath away and reminded me of seeing nature as art, seeing nature with fresh eyes, seeing it as if for the first time. Everywhere.

I hope you are able to also turn your journeys into visits to long galleries and thus enrich your experience.

Petrus                                                                                           art@petrusspronk.com




Thursday, 14 January 2016

TheArtyOfConfrontingTheBeasty


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Last Sunday morning, a soft gentle sunny day, so typical of this time of year around here, I was confronted by a snake.

"Was it a big one"? You may ask. Every snake who surprises you is big. This one was.

The Art of Confronting the Beasty

Stepping outside my studio for a breath of fresh air, there it was, basking its magical geometry in the mid-morning sun just outside my door.

First reaction. "Kill". I didn't though.

Why, I wondered, is our first reaction always to kill this magnificent beast. This symbol of the  creative spirit. This unfairly cast character in Adam and Eve's play. This most exquisitely patterned primordial piece of living rope. This silent slitherer.

Is this reaction built into our genes, is it the aggressive side of my male nature or is it fear. Blind fear. As in not being able to see. Not being able to understand.

I am not by nature aggressive and there was nothing to defend. I wasn't afraid of it in any way. A  little weary maybe, but not afraid.

We fear things mainly because we don't understand them.

In my case 'Fear' would have to apply to the meeting with the snake. Fear in relation to failing to understand. I don't know the particular ways of this marvellous mover. All I know about snakes are the indoctrinated and scary stories, whether they are from the biblical times of my childhood and therefore very strong, or more recent from anyone else, real or made up.

I slowly stepped back inside my studio to consider all this and, after considering, decided to try  and understand. To try and learn about the snake. After all, it was only early summer and I had a long snake time to come yet.

I have stated that 'Learning is the best healer' in this column before.

First therefore,  a re-look at my 'snake history'. I started my life in Australia at Bonegilla, where the  authorities educated/scared us with horror stories about snakes and spiders. Following this my first job was on a farm in N.S.W. It was hot and there were many snakes. I was taught how to  kill them. Effectively. Next I moved to the city of churches, Adelaide. The only snakes I had to watch out for there were of an entirely different kind. After a short stint in the city, for my education, I  returned to the country, the Flinder's Ranges in fact. There on the very day I moved into an old farm house I found a snake moving in at the same address. I didn't ask its name, nor did I introduce myself. I killed it. Afterwards I wondered why that made me feel awful.

Since moving into the forest, locally, I have hardly ever seen any snakes. Yet there are plenty around. Maybe I don't give them any attention.

I considered our collective arrogance summed up in the idea of: There is an animal, it doesn't suit me, BANG. Kill it. It begs the question. Doesn't  any animal has as much right to live on this patch as we have. Probably more so. It has been here much, much longer.

What is it with this white man attitude? I know, the problem with most animals is that they don't understand that they need to claim their bit of real estate by going to the Council and obtain their claim with a proper document, like us, superior beings. Then they would be able to do what they liked. Shoot things, poison stuff,  cut down trees, the whole catastrophy.

After these thoughts ran through my head I still had to deal with the snake. My 'concept' of snake,  which is different to a real one. I took off my glasses labelled 'Fear' and sat down near the snake. I  talked to it. I explained that we could live together but that there were certain rules. Easy. I sat and talked to it quietly for a long time. I was able to get quite close. There was no reason for it to attack me nor for me to kill it. In reality there hardly ever is. I have shown it the respect it deserves and now we will work on sharing this space, on living together.

"Silly Bugger" a neighbour said. 'Blind fear' I answered.

Petrus Spronk,
Snake Charmer