Petrus Spronk

My truly fun career comes in episodes which I haven’t planned. As for instance my eight year travel period, where I didn’t plan anything but followed up peoples’ suggestions and directions. People whom I met on the road and trusted. I continued this approach to my life when I returned home.

In this way, when I had been home from my travels and was just starting to do well with my ceramic work in relation to exhibitions, lectures and workshops, somebody threw a spanner in the works. It is one of the many of such episodes which I will tell you about now.

At about this time there was a recession (the one we had to have) and galleries closed because art is the first to be sidelined. What to do? I took this opportunity to travel to Adelaide to visit my family since they always give me strength. While there, my mother with a throw away line said to me: “when you were small you were always playing in the sand pit your dad built for you.”

On my way on the long drive home from Adelaide this idea kept playing in my head like a melody on repeat and when I was close to home an idea based on my mother’s words took shape.

The idea was to build aspects of buildings from sand in the street, especially buildings in the centre of town, which were older type buildings. I had noticed in the past that the ground floor of most buildings had during the 50s and 60s, been dressed up with slabs of perspex and glass, which gave a new look to the business but didn’t necessarily improve the architectural situation. So the part of the buildings I was going to copy on the footpath across the road, were those from the second floor and up. Which, by focussing with my work on this aspect, would create an different appreciation of the earlier type of architecture.

Back in my studio, I found out about the type of sand which was the best to use for my idea. I bought some of this sand and started a period of play, because playing is still the best way to learn about your material. Play is an activity for which there is no result. It is totally of the moment. Just look at a child involved in play.

In time I remembered a set of images of details of old buildings I had put away. I now used them to practice building my ideas. This took about a day per building. After I finished a piece, I photographed it and then destroyed the work so I could use the sand and the space next day. After a few of these daily sand buildings I also started to destroy the sand buildings in a creative way. I rained upon them with a shower head, I pushed a flat shovel under it and by moving created a earthquake. I poured petrol onto it and set it alight. I documented all this play and thus created, besides a portfolio, a wonderful set of images which I set to music as a presentation. (This became the forerunner of my more recent Words in Winter performances)

With my portfolio of architectural sand sculptures, I approached the directors of various art festivals and proposed the following idea illustrated by the images of my portfolio which I had photographed as if thye were much bigger then they actually were. This is what I proposed. If you deliver a ton of sand, I will in one day build a sand sculpture of a detail of the building across the road. I proposed a series of places I thought were relevant. The point to keep in mind is that when you deal with bureaucrats, the less work they have to do the better they like it. So I came to them with every part of the project covered.

I got many positive responses and as a result I made five works each for the Adelaide Arts Festival, the Melbourne Arts Festival and a few others. For something different I created a slice of cake for the Melbourne fFood and Wine Festival in the middle of Brunswick Street. I also created a number of fun artist residences for some primary schools.

This was the first time I worked outside and thus in the public domain. Not only did I have to concentrate on a new way of working, I also had to deal with the public’s responses.

My period of working with sand in the street came to an end when I noticed an ad in the Saturday age for an expression of interest for a public sculpture for Swanston street. I knew exactly what to make and the rest is history.

And so it goes…


Petrus Spronk is a local artist and sculptor who contributes a monthly column to The Wombat Post.