Friday 22 January 2016


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.


Thursday 14 January 2016



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