Amongst the kitschy swimming pools, retro furniture and Sonny Bono infatuation lies something so unique to Palm Springs that it must be seen to be believed.
Herein lies the forever art project lovingly known as RoboLights; a magical display of artistic craftsmanship that could rival the set of any high budget Hollywood Sci-fi movie.
Impossible to miss when rolling down E Granvia Valmonte St, not far from the downtown Palm Springs strip, Robolights is no average house in the suburbs. Right out of the gate, you'll see plastic aliens in the driveway, a UFO parking sign and giant robotic arms flailing from the backyard. No fence or neighborhood zoning restrictions can contain the magic at hand here, and this is all on display before you even step foot inside. Just imagine how the neighbors feel about all of this.
And the arrival is the moment when things get slightly awkward. How do you actually enter this insanity? Can you just wander in? Is this the private collection of a secluded madman who might shoot you with lasers upon unlawful entrance? WHAT IS HAPPENING HERE?
Like I said, it's pretty residential in these parts, so this is the exact moment that weeds out the weak-willed from the adventurous. The truth is, there's no proper entrance or anything that indicates "Welcome, and step right up!" During off months, ie NOT the Holidays, you'll need to walk to the door and knock, or get somebody's attention from the backyard to allow access.
And yes, it seems a bit awkward and intrusive to flag down a family member, crisp $10 in hand, but it's well worth the hassle. Once you're inside, things go from slightly magical to MUCH, MUCH more magical.
And how do I best describe all of this visual stimulation inside? Well, it's tough to throw it all into one category, as the emotions run the gamut between heartfelt and terrifying, with a ton of WTF thrown in. The best way to sum up these sculptures is colorful, large and insanely imaginative. And here's the kicker: it's all done from recycled materials. Think about that next time you toss that old drinking bird in the trash.
Wandering the grounds-- which it feels like there's a lot of-- is like taking a futuristic Christmas trip to a zoo in the year 3000. There's a neat path that twists and turns across the yard, taking you on a full tour and offering a very up close and personal view of each piece, which makes things all the crazier. Being this close allows you to gain some understanding into how this madness came to be. Is that a melted calculator?
Some pieces are whimsical, and others are quite morbid. It's as if Tim Burton made a 'Transformers' movie but left the CGI behind.
Toilet Deer! My favorite
And the owner/creator/bearded wonder, Kenny, is an interesting one. He's a man on a mission, and what exactly is that mission? To create giant colorful art sculptures to express his art.
Chat it up with him a bit and learn the history. He's a good dude, and clearly a very talented and determine one. Also, bravo for trusting the public enough to allow them to run around your backyard unsupervised. There's no red tape around these parts: you can touch, take photos and hide amongst the giants. Maybe even spend the night there if you're crafty enough.
I truly can't imagine what type of skills it takes to build one of these. Kenny is a National treasure and should be sculpting monuments across America. Imagine if we gave him the job of 'Chief Statue Builder' and the Country becomes engulfed with bright purple robots vogueing in each city center. Our world would be a much better place.
And let's get one straight again: this isn't on a large plot of barren land, or a commercially zoned storefront. All of this madness takes place in a family's average backyard on a quite suburban street; right down the block from where Frank Sinatra used to live. That fact alone makes this so random and wonderful, that it's more than worth the trip.
And, fittingly, Robolights is a HUGE hit during the Holidays. Only charging a small fee a head, Robolights becomes an xmas spectacle at night and brings in many thousands of visitors each year between Thanksgiving and Xmas. Probably one of the coolest Holiday experiences ever, and I'd stack this against the tree lighting at Rockafeller center or a viewing of the film 'Die Hard' any day. Also, imagine the electric bill Kenny fronts for all of this.
Viva la robolights! the project that will hopefully keep trucking forever.
HOW THE HELL DID THIS HAPPEN?
The brains behind the operation, Kenny Irwin, has been dreaming up/building these massive creations since he was a little kid, all with the blessing from his artist father, Ken Irwin Sr, who owned the property.
Why giant robots, you ask? Well, apparently, as a toddler, young Kenny apparently saw visions of aliens and distant planets leading him to create his first robot (a 10-foot tall wooden creature) at the ripe old age of 9. But it didn't stop there and by age 15, he'd built a few more and gotten in trouble for stringing up so many xmas lights in his High School dorm room that the fire department was called. All of this madness would prove to inspire the framework behind his signature style: giant colorful robots covered in flickering lights.
As time went on, he was given free reign by his father to do whatever he wants with the property (aka his "canvas"), so Kenny went to work and has been feverishly building for the last couple decades. He apparently builds robots 350 days a year, for up to 12 hours a day and strings up more than a million lights each Christmas, all by himself.
Today, the property is almost filled entirely with his sculptures, leaving Kenny to ponder "What's next?" Well, Kenny, I say you bulldoze the neighbors and keep the gravy train rolling.