Petrus Spronk

As an artist in residence at the Repatriation Hospital, many years ago now, I used mirror glass and commercial tiles to make a thirty metre long mural. When, upon completion, I was asked if I could do something with the rest of the space, the entrance hall of ‘The Flanders Wing’, I thought this a wonderful opportunity to introduce some colour into an otherwise rather awful grey environment.

The response was overwhelming. Many people asked over and over again why there couldn’t be some colour in other areas as well, putting paid to the idea that the buildings of institutions like being colourless, grey and, in the main, depressing.

Colourlessness, an institutional disease.

I have, over a number of years involvement with hospitals projects, tried to find out why this was so. Nobody knew. I did, however, find out that ‘no colour’ wasn’t an actually policy, but more the lack of a policy.

Apparently most people do not give that sort of thing any attention. This does not mean however, that an impersonal environment does not, without us realising, have a subtle but strong influence on us and on our behaviour – as any badly designed workplace does – as any badly designed city does.

This was a neglected area, an area devoid of any attention.

All you have to do to make anything special, whether it is an environment, a job, a relationship, a process, homework or a space, is to give it attention.

One of the artist’s jobs is to focus his attention on something and, as a result, bring out the specialness of it. By giving the particular area I was working on attention, I would make it special and, in turn, receive attention from the public. This attention would then keep it special. It’s that easy. It’s that difficult.

At the completion of it I presented a lecture to the doctors and scientists of the Repat. (I went disguised as a doctor.) One doctor now working at the Austin remembered some of my ideas. He contacted me and asked if I could do something about the depressing elephant grey walls and spew green floors of his ward as part of a refurbishment program.

Since I never say no to an interesting creatively stimulating project I agreed to visit the ward. I took a chair and a notebook and sat down to wait for inspiration. I don’t necessarily design and make things up. I listen for the space to tell me what ‘it’ needs.

Interestingly all I could hear in my mind were negative complaint words such as ‘cold’, ‘colourless’, ‘depressing’, ‘impersonal’, ‘dark’, etc. Additionally, there were no windows in this area. All I could think was ‘Out of here’. I was lucky to be healthy and able to walk out.

I drew a line next to these negative words and in the column thus created wrote the positive alternatives. ‘Warmth’, ‘light’, ‘personal’, ‘uplifting’, etc. This is what I felt the area needed.

Sitting in that depressing space I wanted more then anything, to see the sea and sky. I thought it would be good to bring the outside in. I decided to take that as a starting point.

For the colour scheme I chose the blues we experience in the environment of the beach.

From the entrance area, which I painted that strong blue, I painted each space which brought you deeper into the ward a lighter tone of that blue. This created a feeling of spaciousness and light. On the edges of some dividing walls I used Lutea Yellow – a warm, golden, rich yellow colour, which came to represent the sun rays on the beach. For the floor I chose a soft terra cotta lino (hospital specifications for the lino not the colour) to represent the closest colour to sand.

For the art work on the walls I created flocks of birds cut from mirror glass using various designs. These birds created reflections of everyone passing by and thus, were always alive with movement -almost as if flying off just by the movement of someone walking by.

In the lino on the floor I had similar bird shapes cut out and filled with a pale blue lino, the colour of the sky, beneath the birds on the walls. Using strips of mirror here and there I was further able to create an illusion of space which created, in a ward a little too low for comfort, a feeling of open space and light. A feeling which made breathing easier.

Since this refurbished area is set in the otherwise pretty colourless and dark overall environment of the rest of the hospital, it stood out starkly. I was going to say, it stood out like the proverbial sore thumb. However, there was nothing sore about it. It was completely healthy. The rest was sore. Sore that they had missed out on a healthy dose of art treatment.

What is wrong with colouring-in one’s life a little here and there. Who wants it drab. Instead of a Bex and a lie down, get a box of colour pencils and start putting a bit more colour into your life today. Like right now.

Doctor Spronk

Mob: 0437668090


Hey, pssst, did you know that a few creative souls from Yandoit have set up a committee to save the only remaining (Uniting) church building from a fate of becoming yet another million dollar housing project. They titled their project: ‘Yandoit Cultural’. There are already many people who want to assist in making this a success. The first event to to kick off the project is ‘music awakens the old magic lantern’, where I project close up images of van Gogh’s paintings onto the ken buddha trio, performing their music creating pure magic which you don’t want to miss. Date: 19th of March 2022, Place: the Yandoit church. Time: 7.45 pm. Entrance: by donation. It would be good if you booked in advance by contacting Petrus on art@petrusspronk or call/text 0437668090.


Petrus Spronk is a local author and sculptor who writes a regular column for The Wombat Post.

This is Part 2, continuing an earlier column.