Petrus Spronk

(For Clare, my dedicated reader from Canada.)

I recently presented an artist talk as part of my exhibition at the Australian Galleries in Melbourne. It attracted quite a crowd, so I thought I would present a few of the stories locally. First, what is 1/2 a story? In my case it is a story which hasn’t finished yet, and for me it is the story of my Parkinson’s gift. That story will finish when my personal story finishes.

I collected these stories during my life as a traveller in creative land. But be warned, the artist, the poet, the creative spirit are all story tellers, and as such they are not above some enhancing of their tales. However, the interesting thing is that the place where truths and the made up stuff exist is also where art and poetry also hang out.

One of the tales was of particular interest to the audience. It was found in a box, which was part of a collection of papers I came across in a village in France, in the place where I rented a room. Tired from my day’s hitch hiking I leafed through the papers when I found this tale. When I started to read I knew I was onto a special story. And here it is. Written by who knows?

Once upon a time, I took a rest to have some left-over breakfast baguette and a little wine. I sat down on a wooden bench at the edge of a lake somewhere near a small village in France, the name of which escapes me. Enjoying the tranquillity and beauty of the moment, I notice an elderly man, doing something at the edge of the water. After this he walked up to the seat I was occupying, and this being the only seat, he sat down next to me. In my best French I greeted him and started a conversation. I asked him what it was he had been doing at the lake’s edge. His answer will amaze you.

This is his story. When he was quiet young, 40 years old, he came into an inheritance which meant he wouldn’t ever have to work again. Hurray! But what to do. Forty is too young to retire, but then he remembered that when he was young he always wanted to be an artist. So he decided to become an artist. He started the idea by designing a 40 year art project.

For the first ten years he learned everything about water colour painting. For a teacher he engaged the painter Marc Chagall, a Russian painter who lived and worked in France. A master of the craft of painting. The master taught his student everything about the craft of water colour painting. He taught him about the quality of paint, he taught him how to use pencils, the different types of paper and the variety of brushes. He also taught him the layout of a composition and the various methods of applying paint. In short everything to do with painting. After the ten years of applying himself he turned out to be a pretty good painter.

After this period of ten years as a student, he decided to spend ten years on a painting trip to paint images of water. He painted rivers, lakes, streams, waterfalls and the sea. He painted one painting per fortnight. Each time he finished a painting, he carefully rolled it up and placed it into one of those postal cardboard tubes, wrote the name of the place and date on it and send it off to his friend in Paris. His friend was a puzzle maker, but not a normal puzzle maker, something more akin to a magician. After he received the painting he carefully glued it onto a thin piece of wood and cut it into a puzzle. Since he was a magician he could create the most incredible intricate puzzles. After he created a puzzle, he placed the pieces into the same cardboard tube, and stored it away. When the ten years had past there were 260 puzzles.

When, after ten years, the painter returned, he collected the puzzles and spent the next ten years solving one puzzle every fortnight. The puzzles were cut in such a way that it would easily take a fortnight to solve one puzzle. Since the paintings were of water, this made the artist’s task even more difficult. After he solved the puzzle he took it to a restorer of paintings. Another master of his craft. This artisan glued the wooden pieces together and since he was excellent at his job he now fixed the cuts in the puzzle after which he carefully lifted the restored painting from the wooden base, rolled it up and placed it in the same tube it had arrived in.

30 years have now passed and for the last ten years the artist decided to return to the spots where he had painted the scenes. When he arrived he took the painting related to that place out of the tube, walked to the waters edge and dipped the painting in and out of the water until he had a clean sheet of paper. And that was exactly what he was doing when I spotted him.

Petrus Spronk is a local author and sculptor who contributes a regular column to The Wombat Post.