Petrus Spronk originally came from the Netherlands. He immigrated to Australia in 1966 onboard the Waterman. Petrus went onto study at the South Australian School of Art, Adelaide, where he graduated with a post graduate degree in fine art. In Petrus' own words, after being deemed not worthy of high school, for two years running, I was placed in an apprenticeship. The next best thing. “If you do not want to use your head, learn to use your hands.” Sound advice, because it was as a result of engaging the world with my hands that it started to make sense. And I in it. During 1957 my family decided to move to Australia along with thousands of other Dutch people and there I found myself in a new land with old, but very useful, fine pastry-making skills. After five years of people continuously eating my work plus the boredom of the repetitive nature of that work I decided to look elsewhere. I looked in at the local Art School (Adelaide) and, once observed the scene, signed up and never ever, even for one hungry minute, looked back.
Four years at Art School and a degree and post Grad studies later I was let out into a world which, in the main, did not think art of any importance. Never mind. After I taught for a few years (two years at Secondary [back at high school and it still did not suit me] and two years at W.A. School of Art, followed by a year in a school of my own creation.**)
I figured that I did not know as much as I thought I did and therefore decided to join ‘The World University of Travel.’ So much did I like this institution that I stayed with it for eight years, during which time I managed to hitch hike around much of the world and learn a great deal about the ceramic expressions of different cultures.
Eight years later, I returned home totally enriched and ready to go. I also returned home with some 12,000 slides and as many stories (as a result I conducted many workshops and illustrated lectures) plus more ideas for ceramic making than I could poke a sticky clay finger at.
I recall sitting in the Flinders Ranges in an old shed/house I had bought when I was still a teacher, many years before, wondering how I would start without any income. I borrowed a pottery wheel, built an earth kiln (learned during my travels and research into primitive kiln making) and started to put my first exhibition of work together. It sold out and I bought my own wheel.
All went well during the eighties. I made new work, it was appreciated and sold well. I presented many exhibitions and received much ceramic kudos. That was until 1989 when a recession (I did not have to have) occurred. One of the results of this recession was a lack of interest in art in general and of ceramics in particular. It became hard to sell work. I had to change course. Petrus, changed tack and explored sculpture. During one conversation, my mother told me how, as a child, I was always entertaining myself in the sand pit my father had built for me. I decided to revisit this dreamtime activity and started to work with sand. I started small, in the studio, and then sold the ideas I came up with to various Art Festivals. Taking my cue from another childhood phenomena, the landscape painter, I went onto the street and created three-dimensional sand works of architectural details which I observed across the road from where I was working.
As a result of a number of commissions I created aspects of town halls, churches, banks, museums, all pretty exact. This extended project, of being an artist in the street, introduced me to the public on a direct basis. This meant that besides my work in the street I had to deal with all sorts of both positive and negative comments. “What a waste of time mate,” a typical remark. It did not hurt me, although it made me strong and sharpened my wit.
At that time there appeared an advertisement in the Age newspaper for a commission for a public sculpture needed for Swanston Walk in Central Melbourne. I knew at once what I would propose.
A similar piece to the sand works I had been making for a few years now, but then in stone. I drew up the ideas, made up a story to explain the work and send it off. I was short-listed. I now made a model, created a budget, drew a set of technical drawings and send all that off. After a number of interviews I was awarded the commission and the most amazing, adventurous and somewhat scary time of my life had started. It took me a year to get the work out of my head and, installed, into Swanston Street, where it has now been for some fifteen years.
The Work of Art
This ceramic jar is formed by a coil formed technique which was in turn wood-fired. The ceramic is also known as black-ware and it is highly decorative with geometric 'V' like patterns on the body of the vase and a herring-bone effect on the neck. It is a decorative work of art as the patterns capture the play of light and dark on its surface.