Thursday, November 30, 2017

Robolights in Palm Springs

In the upscale Movie Colony neighborhood of Palm Springs, around the corner from the old Frank Sinatra estate, there is a Christmas themed display called Robolights, which is one of the most outrageous, ambitious, and downright crazy works of Outsider Art in the world.

The reindeers that greet you from the street, for instance, are on closer inspection made of found objects including computer keyboards, discarded plastic tubing, and skulls, among other odd objects.

They are the work of Kenny Irwin, Jr., who grew up and continues to live in the family home.

The mixture of alien imagery, death masks, and cheery Christmas iconography makes for one of the strangest holiday season experiences imaginable.

Kenny was the son of a remarkably tolerant dad, Ken Irwin Senior, who allowed him to use the family's four-acre yard as an outdoor sculpture garden, and then to turn it into a festival of lights every December since 1986.

In a 2015 article by Paloma Esquivel in the LA Times, she writes: "Irwin's mind has teemed with visions of aliens and distant planets since he can remember. Even as a child, he felt compelled to transform objects and places around him into the stuff of those visions. When he was a toddler, his father recalled, he drew rudimentary figures on the four walls of his nursery."

She continues: "At 9, he built his first outdoor robot — a 10-foot tall wooden creature with a 1940s phone protruding from its chest. At 15, he filled his dorm room at a boarding school near Ojai with so many twinkling Christmas lights and flood lamps and so much electronic equipment that fire officials believed it caused the dormitory to burn down."

Last year, Ken Irwin Senior, who had moved from St. Louis to California in 1942 and eventually became a hotelier with the swank La Mancha Villas in Palm Springs, died at the age of 86. Since then, the Robolights project has gone steroidal, overwhelming in detail and impact, with objects that include old carnival rides in motion.

Those rides are usually populated with strange looking aliens...

...maniacal bunnies...

...robots bordered by skull hedges...

...and spooky elves.

If you are anywhere near the area, the installation is open daily from 4:00 to 9:30 from now until January 8th. There is literally nothing in the world quite like it, and the $5 donation is worth every penny.

I had the good fortune to go with a group of eight friends this week, including Steven Wibben above, on a cool Monday evening when we were almost the only gawkers. Steven had seen Robolights a few years ago and thought it was sort of weird and schlocky, but was bowled over by its present incarnation. He said, "When guests arrive during the holidays, I usually tell them they are on their own as far as entertainment, and now I have something to take them to with total pleasure."


Lisa Hirsch said...


Rachel said...

Yes, indeed. Wow!