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POINTS FOR DEPARTURE (article first published : 2007-11-11)

The picture on the front cover of Points for Departure gives an indication of what to expect from ceramic artist Dina Prinsloo’s book. Nestling between stocky ceramic wedges, a glowing amber red kalanchoe thyrsiflora catches the rays of the sun - looking for all the world like a ceramic piece itself.

No pretty petunias, geraniums or lobelia here but the fascinating shapes and textures of hardy indigenous plants of the veld. They’re tough and some species need closer inspection to discover their qualities. With barely enough space to root in, these sturdy plants snuggle into rocky outcrops, needing little more than tight pockets of soil where moisture can settle.

Dina Prinsloo was born in Johannesburg where she continues to live and work. She has a BA and Honours Degrees from the University of the Witwatersrand and a Masters Degree in Languages from Unisa. In her foreword, she talks about how each phase of her work carried forward some of its importance to the next level of experience – “points of departure” equalling “points of arrival”.

After experimenting with free forms and geometric shapes, she was given an opportunity to reveal these to the public in 1973 with a commission to provide groups of sculptures for a roof garden of indigenous succulents. Using high-fired piped clay, Dina has created a fascinating synergy by marrying the right plants with the right shapes. Pieces grew wings, developed hollows, spouted spirals - all leaving a minimal area in which to plant something exciting like a burst of euphorbia pedilanthus thithym, a row of sempervivum tectorum or a tight clump of euphorbia verruculosa. From squares, triangles and pyramid-like figures, the shapes grew taller and slimmer, out of which sprout euphorbia splendends.

Moving into ceramics in the 80’s, Dina turned her focus into paired pieces, calling them People in Conversation. Curves and “head” pieces gave the works a human identity and before long these became human-sized. Then came commissioned pieces for areas close to water: swimming pools or the sea. The essence is still rough-hewn, the figures suggested rather than defined, giving the impression of ancient sculptures weathered over time.

From her first simple saucer-like dishes and calabashes, Points for Departure charts Dina Prinsloo’s work up to 2005 and the last featured piece which she describes as “a dancer”. Cascading out of the top of the figure is a hecktia purpurea which gives the impression of a feathered headdress. Human-sized, the figure was inspired by the swirls of a dust storm she once observed from an aeroplane looking down on the veld.

The reader follows with fascination this journey of exploration. While the book will be of much interest to ceramic artists, it will also appeal to those who live in areas where soil is inhospitable and provide the impetus to experiment with new shapes and ideas. Published in soft cover by David Krut Publishing and containing some beautiful photographs, Points for Departure retails at R295. ISBN: 978-0-620-38620-3 – Caroline Smart




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