Kenny Irwin has created a kingdom far more magical than Walt Disney’s. In the middle of Palm Springs’ Movie Colony district, Irwin has crafted giant sculptures of robots, animals, and all sorts of other-worldly creatures – a thousand tons of art work, according to the artist – and placed them at his and his father’s four-acre property. It’s a mix of The Nightmare Before Christmas, Iron Giant, science fiction, and yes, Disneyland style, with the fusion of these elements an artistic wonder that will blow viewers’ minds.
“I started making art as a baby,” the 41-year-old Irwin relates. “I always knew I was an artist. It’s kind of like when a cat is a kitten, it knows it’s a cat.”
Some 29,000 visitors so far have passed through Irwin’s sculptural works, primarily during the holiday season when the installations are lit up like a million jewels with sparkling, multi-colored, marvelous webs of lights. It takes several months to set up the light display, but Irwin works on his art constantly throughout the year.
He displays it year ’round, too, and visitors are welcome for a small donation. What will they see? Marvelous works created using scraps and discards from neighbors and pieces bought on eBay. Irwin often makes some of his large pieces right on the spot. Highlights include a “bird bot” with “feathers” made of pallet boards, and 500-feet of rail track made from lawn chairs.
“I visualize my works in my head, completely. Nothing is planned or stored, in my memory indefinitely,” the artist relates.
One enormous, fifty-ton piece was made when he was only eighteen years old, and took him two months to create.
Irwin was kind enough to take us up onto platforms above his mammoth sculptures for a view 30-feet off the ground of his spectacular installations.
He works in 43 different mediums today, and built his first robot at age 9, a 10-foot tall wooden figure with an antique phone imbedded in its chest. Irwin often uses old appliances and fixtures – from microwaves, which he holds in high disdain, to toilets.
Irwin offers an array of smaller pieces for sale. Above and below, beautifully wrought, hand-fired skulls are filled with common substances from Cheerios to marbles, costume jewelry to sports souvenirs.
His edgy but whimsical work was a part of a major exhibition in Baltimore, Md. in 2013, held at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. To fit his enormous sculptures inside, the museum’s front doors and a wall needed to be removed.
It goes without saying, then, that Irwin needs a large space – and one larger than he has now – for his works. In fact, he envisions creating his own amusement park one day.
Can art, writ large, be this much fun, this original, this life-consuming, this much of a legacy? Yes. And it’s a must-see for any art lover, anywhere. If you live in SoCal, don’t wait until next holiday season, get a tour of this impressive installation now, and then be sure to mark your calendars for a light-strung glowing visit post-Thanksgiving.
- Genie Davis, All Photos by Jack Burke