RoboChristmas

Kenny Irwin Wrapping up Palm Springs holiday with family. On the last night, finally got into the “Christmas Galaxy” (one night closed for repair, another rained out, another lines too long), just down the street from where we stayed. Artist Kenny Irwin opens his yard to public tours every year between Christmas and New Year’s — a 4-acre installation of humanoid and non-humanoid sculptures, most of them extravagantly, intensely lit, all of them fabbed from found objects, glue, wood, bone, metal, plasma generators, generic Kristmas Krap, many miles of electrical cord, and more than three million Christmas lights. Some of the sculptures weigh many tons — one is 48 feet high. Another includes something like 560 pounds of dry glue. The most elaborate sculptures sell for as much as $17,000. The tour included descriptive lines such as “This one is 40% reindeer, 50% tiger, and 30% robot.”

A castle full of living white doves at the end of the tour. All inspiring.

My images of the Christmas Galaxy, hastily output from iPhoto. Kenny’s own rather odd site describing the project.

Now if I could only figure out how this fits into Sean Graham’s General Theory of Christmas Decorations. I think we’d have to create a new category for Kenny; something like “Uber Edge.”

38 Replies to “RoboChristmas”

  1. Jesus. If I were a young kid, that shit would scare the hell out of me… Like a christmas version of the junkyard where the masters were hidden at the end of “Eddie and the Cruisers”.

    I’m not sure how this would fit into my theory… I think it would all be “Bleeding Edge”, but obviously quite a bit of it would never catch on with the general populous (Skulls, for instance.. :). I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if a bit or two of it made the transition into “the cycle”.

  2. Easy for you to say Sean Graham who is not the one who logs in almost 5000 hours worth of work all by himself in a year to make the world a brighter place one light at a time. That is the funny thing I notice about people like you who just sit back and critique other’s hard work just to make unfounded negative comments. Perhaps if you saw the display in it’s entirety you would know the whole story behind what it is about. Oh well……

  3. Kenny, I don’t think Sean meant it in a negative way, really. I think what he’s saying is that your work is a mixture of the usual delightful Christmas stuff (snowmen, santa, etc.) and big robots, some of which — I agree — could be pretty scary to young children. For example the big silver guy in front of the house spraying white steam from his big gun, or the skull on the reindeer — that’s far from the innocence of the usual Christmas stuff. Sean isn’t knocking your work, just saying it might frighten him if he were young.

  4. Kenny,

    All I said was that if I were a little kid, and saw big robots and skulls I would be scared… I didn’t say your display didn’t look cool as hell.

    Lighten up.

    sean

  5. When people refer to my work as quote “shit”, that is why I took offense at his comments. I did not work my fingers to the bone for 1000s of hours in a year to have people refer to my work as quote “shit”. I hope that clarifies things a bit coming from the artist. I appreciate the beautiful article and pictures you put on your site, I just did not appreciate Sean taking something nice you did and tarnishing the quality of my work on the Internet. I have very low tolerance for people like Sean because I have had really bad problems result from people like Sean who pick apart other people’s hard earned work for any of the negative aspects. The way I feel about it is if he did not have anything nice to say he should keep it to himself. That is what is know as being polite and respectful and you and I both know those comments have nothing nice to say. The holidays is about being nice and that is the way it should stay [peace and goodwill to all of humankind]. Thankyou for understanding:-)

  6. By the way I have had an estimated 10,000 people tour through the 2/3 mile walk inside the display in only a month and I did not have one kid get scared of any of my work. They loved it more then anything and I had parents coming back to me to help their kids with art projects. Some families returned more than a dozen times to make sure all their kids got to see it and found all aspects of my display extremely humorous and light hearted that it made their Christmas like no other they ever had. They did not have to pay 10.00 a head like at most walk through displays that are a fraction the size because I do it out of the kindness of my heart to make the world a brighter place one light at a time. That is what the world needs more of and less of the negative thoughts. Positive thinking makes life better for everybody and brings heaven to Earth so we do not have to wait for it. Many people referred to me as the “Willy Wonka of Palm Springs” and my display has been deemed by many as the largest in atleast this country and it was made by only one person because I truly care about making the world a better place and I do it through my art.

  7. Kenny, I think you’re misinterpreting Sean. When he says “that shit would…” me means it in the “street” sense, as in “that was some good shit.” OK, not the most delicate choice of words, but still, he was being complimentary in his way, as evidenced by his later comment where he says your stuff is “cool as hell.”

    Interesting (and glad) to hear that you haven’t heard from any scared parents. I think it’s all about context — there’s so much good cheer in your work, and the whole environment is so obviously non-threatening. Very cool.

    “Willy Wonka of Palm Springs.” I like that :)

  8. Thankyou Scott for clarifying things. I guess there is alot of nuances in western culture I’m quite unfamiliar with. I can see what you mean now. I really appreciate you featuring my artwork on your website and you are always welcome to come by and see the latest projects I’m working on through out the year. I don’t know if I showed you the Bic Ball Point Pen Drawings or not but if I did not show you it is a must you should see them, wasalaam. Look forward to showing you more artwork:-)

  9. Kenny:

    Scot’s clarification is spot on… I was using ‘shit’ in the slang sense, not literally… I think, at least from the pictures I’ve seen, your work looks really cool… And I’m glad that no children have been frightened (although I still think *I* would have been as a kid.. :P). I wish I was able to see it in person..

    Sorry for the misunderstanding,
    sean

  10. Kenny Irwin, you are not interested in displaying your light show for, as you put it, the benefit of humankind. The only reason you do it is to get the word out about your website which displays all the sick oddities which you sell, and which are also mingled throughout your light exhibit. Quit lying to people or you might just get some publicity you don’t like. I think it’s time for you to change your ways.

    Palm Springs resident.

  11. Odd – christmasgalaxy.com is no longer active — seems to have reverted to the registrar. When I saw it last week I thought it was very poorly designed, but didn’t see any “sick oddities,” nor did I see anything that would match that description when I toured the light show.

    Maybe I’m not getting it – do you have some beef with Irwin or his work?

  12. Yes, it does seem to be gone now, doesn’t it? There are a few unhappy people. Scot, you would truly buy this stuff on his website and put it in your home? If one of the negative factors is no because you don’t have the ridiculous prices he is asking for this junk; let’s say IF YOU DID HAVE THE MONEY, YOU WOULD BUY THIS STUFF? Do you really think it all fits in with the Christmas Theme? When you run a business to sell this stuff, do you feel it should be displayed in a Christmas light show which frightens many children? Do you feel that if one does choose to call this art and run a business selling it, that they should send multitudes of email and make telephone calls, trying to gain sympathy from people, telling them not enough people see these creations, and if they did it would benefit mankind making it a better world to live in, trying to get people to hound certain broadcast networks to do shows on his exhibit… thus, an added bonus…FREE PUBLICITY for a profit making business at the expense of well intentioned, caring, people trying to “help someone who they “think” is so misunderstood and not given enough recognition?” Just curious.

  13. I appreciate your help Scott. It is amazing how some people can distort the best intentions of people who trying to do something positive for their community and for the world. Of the 1000s of people in the community who have enjoyed the light displays for the last 17 years I have had nothing but positive response from the community. Especially from the children that have been delighted and excited over the displays. The display and the tours consume 1000s of hours of my time and $10000s to produce. I am happy with the support you and many others have given for my efforts. I’m saddened that even a single person doesn’t get the peacful message that the others. My art site: http://www.andale.com/stores/sf_home.jsp?mode=1&sfUrl=perfectlymadebirds.

  14. Hi Cassie –

    If I had that kind of money, I would probably not be spending it on art, and if I were spending it on art, I probably wouldn’t buy many of the things I saw at Christmas Galaxy. But not for the reasons you probably assume. I think Kenny’s work is really interesting, and enjoyable. But honestly, I don’t think Kenny’s work is quite in the league of sculpture commanding those kinds of prices. Yet. He could be there, I think, with a bit more exploration and a bit less formula (there’s a sameness to many of his pieces — I think he needs to break from his mold and try some new techniques). But that’s not to knock his work entirely — I’d still be proud to have some of his pieces on my lawn or in my house.

    I’m still curious what you meant by “sick oddities” — I saw nothing in his collection that could be called “sick” by any stretch of the word.

    > Do you really think it all fits in with the Christmas Theme?

    I don’t really care about that. The “Christmas Theme” is boring beyond description. Who cares about another dumb Santa or snowman? I’d FAR sooner put one of Kenny’s sculptures on my lawn than some predictable, prefab light-up “Christmas” thing from Target. In fact, (again being honest here) I would have enjoyed Christmas Galaxy a lot more if all of those Santas and Snowmen were gone – I feel they cheapen his work, come off as an attempt to draw in people who wouldn’t otherwise be interested in his installation. Probably an effective technique, but it kind of “dumbs down” the installation. Also, by removing the christmas-themed stuff, he could keep the place open year ’round (assuming he could afford the electricity!)

    > Do you feel that if one does choose to call this art

    What else would one call it?

    > that they should send multitudes of email and make telephone calls, trying to gain sympathy from people

    I didn’t realize he was doing that. But you know, the vast majority of artists struggle and starve due to an inability to market themselves, so kudos to him for finding a way to do that. As long as he’s not calling people in their homes — I have zero tolerance for telemarketing of any kind. But there’s certainly nothing wrong with an artist letting the media know!

    > trying to gain sympathy from people, telling them not enough people see these creations, and if they did it would benefit mankind making it a better world to live in

    I agree that Kenny’s “benefitting mankind” message is a bit cheesy. I happen to believe that he IS benefitting mankind, that he does a great service to the world. But an artist should not be so self-congratulatory. His work should speak for itself. That’s something for the critics to say, not for the artist to say.

    > thus, an added bonus…FREE PUBLICITY for a profit making business

    Should artists work for free? What artist can survive if they don’t also treat their work as a business? Again, I’m not familiar with how Kenny publicizes himself. It sounds a bit tacky, if your description is accurate, but harmless.

    > at the expense of well intentioned, caring, people

    How is it “at their expense?” What harm is caused by his self-promotion? Wouldn’t you rather have this form of self-promotion than the forms used by most commercial entities — TV and billboard advertising, etc.? How about all the kids running around with Nike and other logos on their shirts? Not only do they not get paid by Nike, etc.; they pay Nike to buy the branded clothing, and they’re so brainwashed that they wear it proudly! Now that’s what I call ugly self-promotion at the expense of the people. Oh, and it’s also called “the American way.”

    Cassie, let me ask you this: Is your complaint with Kenny simply that you don’t like his work? Would you rather see more sameness in the world than difference? Do you think normalcy has some kind of inherent value, and should be encouraged? (I certainly don’t).

    Regards,
    Scot

  15. Regarding children being frightened, we’ve sort of covered that earlier in this thread. It seems that adults assume that kids will be frightened, but if Kenny is being honest above (and I have no reason to think that he isn’t), kids are actually not being frightened at all.

    I can say that I attended with five children (nieces and nephews between the ages of 3 and 13) and not one of them registered anything resembling fear – only fascination and enjoyment. In fact, one 11-year-old niece had a lot of questions later about where one would go to find a human or horse skull (I told her about The Bone Room in Albany). She even wanted to know where she could get a manatee skull! (I told her they are endangered, so it probably would not be possible to buy a manatee skull).

    Kids aren’t as fragile as adults sometimes assume.

    Kenny, thanks for posting the link to your online store — I had no idea you were doing so much additional work on the side!

  16. Your welcome Scot. I appreciate the honesty and integrity in your comments. Did you get a good look at the Bic Ball point pen drawings? Had I know you were as interested in art as you were I would have invited you in to see them. They are the core of my work that I have worked the hardest on. If you have any suggestions on how I may improve the robots I would be curios to know and it would be an honor to have you host my Christmas site. My hosting went down because I could not update the site to 2004 display because their software was full of bugs and it kept blocking uploads of HTML code. You might have some good ideas? All the data from 2003 was lost when their server crashed. I had real problems with them that led a sloppy website. I also think your suggestion about the humankind message is a good one too. When you see the drawings and I can explain them to you it makes more sense. It does not make as much sense when your looking at robots. Thankyou Scot.

  17. It is really quite simple. You refer to your robots as art. I quess anything can be referred to as art.

  18. > It is really quite simple. You refer to your robots as art. I quess anything can be referred to as art.

    Mike, no offense, but that’s kind of stating the obvious.

    cf. Warhol and everything that’s happened since.

  19. You just don’t get it, even though spelled out in the most elementary terms. Kenny’s “art” which he attempts to verbally glorify by calling it art in a positive sense, saying that it is for the world to enjoy, is actually only a bunch of junk. It is not pretty. It is not enjoyable. It is a humorous, odd, curiousity. People come to see it because it is an oddity, just as some visit Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum. At least that is the general word in Palm Springs.

    Scot might call what is displayed at Ripley’s as art.

    Back to porno. Some call porno art. You just don’t get the correlation, right? Most of Kenny’s glued together junk is a feflection of what must be going on in his tormented mind.

    I have seen beautiful art in different forms; painting, sculptures, etc. Kenny is being recognized all right, but not as an artist. Not as a person who creates beauty or anything to enhance the betterment of humanity.

    Has Kenny considered why some shows do choose to display his light show, and some shows choose not to? There really is a definite reason. I know you, Scot, or Kenny, won’t be able to grasp it so I am not even going to try to draw you a picture.

    If Kenny thinks coverage by the Desert Sun is a great accomplishment, the Desert Sun covers anything and everything that is newsworthy, or that they think will fill up space for their readers. They cover the good and the bad.

    You just don’t get it.

  20. It’s funny, Mike – you start by saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder — that “I quess anything can be referred to as art” — which is true. But at the same time you seem unwilling to accept that some people actually DO consider his work art, actually DO consider it beautiful. So which is it, Mike? Are art and beauty actually relative, as you first said, or are they not, as you later say? It seems you want it both ways; you want to be able to grant that beauty is a relative / subjective thing, but you also want to call Kenny’s work junk; without merit. Seems like you’ll have to settle one way or the other.

    Hey, I can relate to that. I have really strong opinions about music, and I want to reserve the right to say that 95% of it is junk. Aesthetics are a very hard topic. The rabbit hole goes as deep as you want it to go.

    This could quickly devolve into a general discussion of aesthetics, so let’s not go there. I’ll just agree that Kenny isn’t the most accomplished artist out there. I wouldn’t put him in league with “fine artists” — his stuff isn’t quite museum quality. He’s more of a self-directed/inner-directed artist. But a lot of people DO consider his work beautiful, it’s certainly harmless. He has a lot of fun making it, a lot of people have a lot of fun viewing it.

    It’s interesting, it’s unusual, it turns me on.

    What I don’t understand is why some people seem so annoyed with/by him. What harm has he done to YOU or your community? Would you rather NOT have interesting people doing interesting things in your fair city? Would you rather yet another of the thousands of boring houses with boring store-bought Christmas displays? I’d sure rather have Kenny’s work as a neighbor than any of the mediocre, suburban displays I see around me.

    Again, what exactly is your complaint? It seems, like Cassie above, that your complaint is that you personally don’t like his work. Well, sheesh — any of us could say that about 90% of everything (music, art, etc.)

    You’re right – I don’t get it.

  21. Mike, let it go. The upper echelon of Palm Springs understands what you say, and that is all that is important. Scot was right when he said that Kenny is NOT the most accomplished artist out there; in fact that is putting it mildly. Kenny should tell everyone why Huell Howser will not do coverage on his light show. But, he won’t. Sad.

  22. I travel to LA for a week and look what this conversation has devolved into… :)

    Who says Art has to be beautiful? Who invented this notion? Never once in my life have I assumed that art must be beautiful… Sometimes I find art terrifying or hideous or (often) boring. Just because you don’t find an artist’s work interesting doesn’t make it any less art. I love HR Giger’s paintings, and if I contort my notion of the term beautiful, i’m sure I could apply it to his art, but in reality I find them less beautiful and more terrifying.

    As far as the upper echelon of Palm Springs goes, who gives a shit…. I mean, really, what the hell has this so-called self-identified upper echelon done for the world lately?

    Even if I pretend that I don’t find Kenny’s work interesting, I still don’t understand the compulsion to tear him down.

  23. Well, said Sean Graham. Thankyou. It seems my art stirs tremendous extremes of emotion both good and bad. Really don’t understand why? I guess because this thread got so intense it must mean the artwork is more evocative then I ever realized and all up to interpretation. In away they speak like oxymorons saying it is not art but if you think about if it was not art they would not be so compelled by emotion to this level to prove a point that can’t be proved.
    Huell Howser called us personally and said that his show does not do coverage on Christmas related topics or displays so there is no further misunderstanding on that subject.

  24. I was in Palm Springs about a month and a half ago. I still remember the robots that I saw in his yard with an utter sense of wonder, and the pen drawings which he showed me. Of course the achievement of making a multi-ton TV collage, or a robot out of hundreds of pounds of glue, is quite an achievement. And those drawings were insanely good for being done with only a pen.
    That doesn’t matter much though. I’ve got friends who can practice proper singing technique till it’s like the chant of the heavens. What made the memory stay, was the entry into the garden of lights, that fairy land, and just listening to Mr Irwin tell about the robo-reindeers or the robos in the disco or the robot-bears, so much imagination, to come up with such an absurd, incomprehensible creation. I thought how different he probabbly was, how much will he must have to stand up und live his world, and it reminded me of some of my frantic rants of imaginative differenciation from other people, and I must confess, it made me hope of someday finding whatever small amount of understanding.

    As for the matter of the higher classes of Palm Springs, i seem to understand that Mr Irwin is from a rather rich family ; however I don’t see how any of this is relevant to what I call, as a cultural expression of his imagination that uplifts the rational mind, his art – regarding the pratfalls of suburban closed-mindedness, you should, assuming you have no time to read, watch Lolita, by Stanley Kubrick, or the more recent Dogville, ny Lars von Trier

  25. Kennys work is great, and my 7 & 10 year old boys like it also, having been to the desert collecting gems with him theres no kinder person ive seen, in know way does he mean any harm to any one just enlightment and fun

    Paul in Beaumont

  26. Get ready the, 2005 light display which is already on and nearly finished with again over 5 million lights which is a one man artist creation by Kenny Irwin! It will be airing on HGTV from Dec 5th-25th. This year’s light display celebrates Christmas, Eid Mubarak and Hanukah-all faiths-one people of Earth, peace amongst all humanity. The light display has many new surprises this year. Come by and see it. Walkthroughs nightly from 7PM until 10 PM from December 1st-January 6TH weather permitting [severe wind or rain]. Located one block north of Alejo on 1077 Granvia Valmonte off of Aveneda Cabballeros. Contributions toward lights and art appreciated at the start of the walk through. Toys accepted for kids drive. Peace, Salaam and shalom.

  27. Just saw it tonight…too weird for words and the whole tour wasn’t even open. : (
    Welcoming sign asks that you not ask questions…the artist is very tempermental.

  28. The tour is different this year because help was not available. FAQ’s posted in front of the display for those most commonly asked questions such as:
    1] How long did it take? A] APX 1500 hours this year
    2] Where do you store it all? A] In 24 50 gallon drums converted into robots to avoid unsightly storage
    3] Why is the tour different this year? A] No help to assist on guided tours so tours are self guided.
    4] Where are you from? A] Palm Springs resident
    5] How much is your electric bill? A] Average apx 20k
    Awnsers to all these questions are clearly posted as you walk into the display, they do no say to ask questions period, just not FAQs. Please keep in mind I am always doing my best to keep this display operating by myself and do not mean to come off as temperamental which could not be farther from the truth. I am under extreme pressure during this time of the year doing it all by myself. When I am being asked questions from five different groups at the same time please be patient and I will give you as much attention as possible for all and any other questions you have.

    [Weirdness], Artists call it creativity. It is what artists do and it would be a very boring display if it was just another average display. I have devoted visitors come every single year since I started it 18 years ago. It is an extremely busy turnout this year with three record breaking nights of more than a 1000 walkthrough vistors a night. Please be patient and wait your turn and I will be happy to awnser questions you have. Season’s Greetings.

  29. I saw this work just two nights ago…and I can tell you it was truly amazing. The robots were absolutely incredible and the work done to make them was genius. I could imagine every little boy’s jaw dropped in awe in total wonder. In fact, when I was looking at each one I was thinking that Kenny should get with some marketers and create some robot type power action figures because not only do children enjoy robots but many adults collect them.

    My hats off to you Kenny…I enjoyed it very much and the bubble machine really created a great ambience! I would recommend anyone in the area to visit this display because not only was it artistic and fun…but it was full of good spirit!

  30. Tom Alter, I have tried contacting you but your email may be no good. I don’t get a response from you. Please repost in this forum with a different email address that works or phone number if you want me to contact you. Thankyou.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.