The following interview was conducted with Petrus Spronk in October 2011 for a website I had setup called Golden ArtNet. The website was dedicated to “Exploring the creative energies of the western central highlands, from Ballarat to Bendigo … and everywhere in between. Seeking out the best contemporary art from the region and delving a little deeper into its development, its production, and the people who create and present it.”
Petrus Spronk is an artist living in Daylesford. I first came across Petrus’ work at Stockroom Gallery in Kyneton and was really taken with his craftsmanship, his installation of the work, and his conceptual framing of the whole show. Following this I was fortunate to work with Petrus to install a show at the Convent Gallery in Daylesford. His immediate grasp of how to best orchestrate the hanging of a variety artworks from a variety of artists was remarkable. He could assess a collection of different drawings, prints, sculptures and paintings, and with ease and fluid motion assemble them together into a coherent pattern of interconnected relations. Recently I have been chatting with Petrus via email and I have learnt about his forays into forests where he constructs spontaneous sculptures in the landscape. Faced with such passionate commitment to creativity I asked if I could push my luck and interview him so I could share his thoughts, experiences and knowledge more widely. Luckily, and generously, he agreed and what follows is a conversation undertaken via email between the two of us.Kent:
You’ve been making art interventions in forests lately, which I find very intriguing. There’s a sense I get that you are compelled to engage directly with the natural world, a feeling that you are out there striking up a personal connection with the trees and the lakes and the landscape. This intimate interaction you have in the environment, what do you think is driving that urge?
I have lived in this forest for about the past 25 years
for about twelve years of that time, I have walked this forest daily
i did that for two reasons. To stay fit, and to appreciate it
so that i never take the privilege that i live in it
plus its specialness for granted
at times i walk on the paths at time across the uneven forest floor
most times I walk quietly in order not to disturb
the forest atmosphere which i need to sustain me
as a result of the quiet approach, i see things.
such as a while back, after a period of rain,
there were black water puddles which perfectly
reflected the sky through the trees. the blue standing out very strongly
finding a piece of sky lying on the forest floor.
I photographed these images.
they became a series of forest mirrors, which i placed on my blog
(i always carry my small camera with me just in case)
then one day about a year ago, i came across a tree limb
which had fallen into a v shape of another tree, forming
a perfect horizontal, which was a visually strong compositional element
an accidental horizontal in a place filled with verticals
there happened to be a rock nearby, which for no reason at all
i picked up and placed on the horizontal,
a design response?
a compositional response?
a libran (seeking balance) response?
whatever response, it felt good.
this awoke me to another way of looking at the forest
my awareness re-awoken in another domain
and, as with any new project, the artist started to play
play, which is still the most creative way to engage
at the start of any new learning process
this play took me on a wonderful creative journey
during which i discovered ways to play
with that which was available
not bringing anything into the forest
but use that which is there
to finally answer your question
of what is driving this urge
the same urge which drives my studio work
‘the desire to make beautiful things with my hands’
it is that simple
it is that complicated
it is important that all of my creative endeavours, be it sculpture, ceramics, a talk or whatever, need to be poetic. that is the first thing i go for when i receive a commission: ‘how do i make this poetic’
see the work at the spa reserve
I love that. It sounds as if you are open to seeing the world anew, taking nothing for granted, looking past the normal expectations and seeing things as you find them. Coupled with that, is the playful aspect of re-composing those elements, building and creating something new out of the elements around you. To me, it’s a wonderfully innocent interaction with nature, putting branches on top of other branches, putting a stone on a log, just looking for the right composition that elicits some sort of feeling for you.
You photograph these works to share on your blog, and some of the images are beautiful pieces of art in their own right. How do you feel about the relationship between the actual sculptural form in the forest, and the representation of it as a photograph? Would you like people to see the sculptures in their forest setting, or is that context a more personal experience, with the photos acting as the media for communicating that experience to others?
the work in the forest is a personal experience insofar as i create it. for a personal reason i have switched my attention to living in this moment, since it is really all i’ve got. i don’t regret the past nor worry about the future, so, living in the moment suits this work very well, it is the activity which happens to be manifested in a concrete form and maintains that for however long. I photograph because that is yet another project, which in a way has nothing to do with the creative expression of the quiet forest activity, some people call it value adding, for me it is making more out of the work i have done. creating another project, exercising my creativity. The appreciation of people passing by and discovering the work i see as an extra. People have told me how they are seeing the forest different after seeing my work, others get their kids involved, i am seeing other works appearing. in one neighbour’s yard are small piles of all sorts of objects kids’ response. there is one person who actively destroys the pieces i make, pushes them over, at one stage (s)he cut a wonderful work up with a saw. so i get all sorts of responses. most positive, some negative. in the main, i love being in the forest and responding to that which is offered by it. it is a rich experience, that is what it is about isn’t it?For some artists a strong negative response is welcomed more than a bland shrug of the shoulders. It shows that the work is registering on some level, triggering some sort of emotional resonance. The fact that someone is out there, actually cutting your work up, is kind of fascinating. It’s almost like there’s a weird collaboration going on between you both – one who freely builds and attempts to produce surprising objects, the other who comes along and reconfigures these into fragments. Not unlike the process of development and entropy, but rapidly accelerated.
the freaky part is that i do not know who it is doing it, it is pretty well known that the sculptural works are c/o me, but no one seems to know who is destroying them. I have left notes under the works which are most destroyed, asking for the reason, or make him/her self known, invitation to partake. why it is these little efforts are so bothersome that (s)he carries a saw into the forest. anyway part of the story, testing my concept/commitment of the ephemeral……..You mentioned your commission work – how do you find working on your public commissions compared to your own personal projects? Is it a chance to work something more specifically to a brief, to bring an idea to fruition through additional funding or a way to connect to a different audience? Or a combination of these things?
first of all, all projects are personal, because i make them so, they just have different parameters. funding has never been a great part of my thinking, being creative and poetic (wherever possible) has. what then is the difference? the work in my studio, the ceramic work, is my soul work, that activity where, when i work at it, is feeding me as well. from this activity a gain the strength and confidence i need for taking on the commissions, which have an expectation from outsiders, where the studio work hasn’t. so, in the studio i cruise along, where i make discoveries and where part of the work is always play. for a commission for a sculpture, be it public or private, I go to the site and ask it (that site) what it needs, rather then imposing my will upon it. So i sit there until something arrives, be it from a private thought in relation to the space i find myself in, or a conversation with a passer by. with this information i go to my studio and create a folder with the name of the project. any idea i get goes into the folder, without judgement, keeping the project idea fluid for as long as time permits. then when the time comes to make a commitment I sit with all my ideas and design a work from that. A public commission is just that, it is for the public. It is necessary that a connection with the public be found, so that the public can connect with the work. if that connection isn’t there, what is the point. with the forest work, i do not care of there is a connection or not, i am playing and through this play and discovering without any boundaries/restrictions.I love the idea of sitting with a site and asking it what it needs. I find that an awareness of context is so important for art – understanding how an object sits with another object, how people move through a space affects the atmosphere of a location, how much of an impact lighting can have at different times of the day. These are all crucial ingredients in the way the network of relations exists between objects, people and ideas. Given that this blog is devoted to this particular area of the world I’d like to finish the interview by asking about the region in which you work. How do you find it working up here in Daylesford?
had i found myself anywhere else, i would expect that this would have been a similar working experience. just that my creative spirit would have been somewhat differently motivated. it is not so much the material you choose to work with, as what you do with it. so it is about place, it is how i react to it, what i do with it, for me at least. i remember when choosing to live here, driving around for a couple of years, while i rented, till i came to the spot i now live. i was sitting on the veranda (considering buying the place), looking into the forest from a birds eye view (i am on a slope) and realizing that this place would provide me with the challenge i needed, especially the spirit, which hung about on the edge of the forest and a small field, would test me. it has, it does and goes on doing so.
the forest has that advantage for me. it does provide space and quietness this creative spirit needs. now, maybe had i found myself in melbourne at this stage of my life, i would like to think that i would have been as creatively engaged. the outcome would have been different. but hopefully just as satisfactory. see my fragment in swanston street, that was my response to the city environment. seeing this in relation to my response to the forest, is there a difference?
unexpected benefits….. mmmm…. cultural environment, i would not call this environment cultural. there is a terrible lack of culture, and that which locally passes for culture is a farce. i look at the thoroughfare of consumption our town has become and despair.
for me there are no advantages or disadvantages relating to this environment. i happen to live in it, or any other space and find a way to work in it, with it. respond in my own creative way.
having said that i love living where i do
in the forest, on the edge of possibilities
‘if you are not living on the edge, you are taking up too much space’
Petrus keeps a regular blog with images from his excursions into the forest, among other creative outpourings. It also contains his very poetic writing and is definitely worth a slow look:
I’d like to thank Petrus for taking the time to answer my questions, which we conducted as a discussion back and forth over the course of a week, and for his honesty and generosity in sharing his thoughts.