Lighting Up the Night

Sculptor and fire victim Erick Dunn is lighting his way out of the darkness.

Story David Bolling  
Photos Steven Krause & David Bolling

Fire is no respecter of art. If it burns, it burns. Or it simply melts. Just ask Erick Dunn, or Claudia Meglin.

Dunn and Meglin are partners in art, although their respective disciplines are as much complementary as collaborative. And their Kenwood home, studio and work product was all destroyed in a matter of minutes during the October, 2017, firestorm.

Dunn is, among many other things, a light sculptor. He molds and casts objects found in nature, as well as objects that look like they are found in nature, then he turns the Lucite casts into elaborate, electrical, and thus almost hallucinatory, interactive, light-emitting objects of indescribable complexity and form.

One of his more extraordinary creations is called the Biotron, a 2014 Burning Man honorarium art installation, 16 feet long, 9 feet wide and 7 feet tall. Dunn refers to it as “she,” and says she was a mobile, electroluminescent, mollusk-like creature. The outside shell of the Biotron was populated by hundreds of smaller electroluminescent things, all of which pulsed with rhythmic waves of color, and were programmed to induce meditative brainwave frequencies. The objective, says Dunn, was to create a psychedelic experience for sober people.”

The entrance to this pulsating cocoon of light looked pretty much like a vagina, and inside its womblike embrace there was room for 12 people to recline and meditate, or whatever. Hard to picture? Go to biotronesis.com and see for yourself.

Dunn comes from an esteemed career in visual effects for TV and film, but has been drawn increasingly into the world of electroluminescence inspired by nature. His sculptures are cast from such natural objects as a squash flower or a cauliflower head.

As he puts it in his website explanation, “My designs are not only inspired by nature, but derived from actual specimens collected, molded and organized by category before being recombined, remolded and reformed into new creations … It gives me the greatest joy and satisfaction to create something new in collaboration with our Mother Nature.”

Creating would come easier of late, if the October firestorm hadn’t destroyed everything he owned—his molds, his tools, works in progress, works completed—everything.

“We had five minutes to get out,” he says. “We left with a cat and an empty car.” A second cat was feared lost in the flames, but after some three months of searching and waiting, and with help from a nonprofit service called Outcast Cat, they were ultimately reunited.

Other help came from a friend whose late father had been an airline mechanic and contributed a collection of useful tools.

The first post-fire priority was clearly housing, and following leads from a proactive Sonoma Valley website created to assist fire victims with available housing options, Erick and Claudia were connected to Elisa Stancil and Chuck Levine, whose home property just outside the border of Jack London State Historic Park had a rustic one-room cottage, with basement space for a workshop where he can create Lucite molds to produce more sellable works of luminescent art. It fit their needs perfectly and gave them cause to believe the community (and the universe) could support their creative work.

And like the rental home they lost in Kenwood, there is a field outside with horses.

Erick broke his hip a month into their temporary new home and spent the next two months on crutches, but he was sculpting as soon as he was out of bed and had enough energy to create a 12-foot-high articulated sculpture with electroluminescence and an online program that can drive patterns of colored light up and down its caterpillar-like trunk and out the two Lucite flower pods sprouting from its hydra-like twin necks.

Both humble and grateful for the support he and Claudia have been given, Erick is taking orders for his unique works of art and light.

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