As lights dance Sensorio artist sees nature, people interact

PASO ROBLES, CALIFORNIA: It's an art installation, sure. But the internationally acclaimed artist who created the interactive work "Field of Light at Sensorio" in California sees it as much more than that.

It is, says Bruce Munro, a conduit of sorts allowing its viewer to better commune with nature when taking in "Sensorio's" 58,000 shimmering, flower-like lights that have been painstakingly installed over 15 acres (6 hectares) of pristine pasture in the heart of central California wine country.

"I don't want to sound like some kind of ancient hippie because I'm not," the 60-year-old British artist says with a laugh as he discusses his latest — and largest — light exhibition.

When the sun sets behind the rolling hills on the edge of the small picturesque town of Paso Robles, and the lights come on, Munro says he senses a kind of tranquil peace settling over the hundreds of people who come each night to walk the hills and valleys bathed in his creation's gentle but colorful illumination.

"It almost is a lens to see the landscape that you're in," he said. "The landscape — nature — really does help us find a balance in our lives

"We all are leading incredibly busy lives," he continues. "Busier than ever and with more screen time. And this is really an opportunity to get off screen, to get back into the real world. You know, to smell the cut grass, the fresh air. ... Or whatever. And be a part of it."

Munro has been putting up light-centric installations around the world for 15 years and is sometimes compared to the environmental artist Christo, whose most famous work is likely "Running Fence," the 25 miles (40 kilometers) of colorful fabric he and his late wife and fellow artist, Jeanne-Claude, stretched from central California to the Pacific Ocean in the 1970s.

Munro's "Field of Light" works vary in appearance from sculptures to garden rooms to everyday objects that reflect light. His most famous, at least until now, is likely "Field of Light at Uluru," located in the red rock desert of Australia, a region considered sacred to the aboriginal people.

Fourteen years in the planning, it opened in 2016 for a brief run that has since been extended indefinitely.

It is similar to "Sensorio" but smaller, made up of 50,000 colorful, solar-powered twinkling orbs. The artist insists that had nothing to do with his trying to outdo himself by putting his largest work to date in California.

"Size is relevant to the landscape it inhabits," he said. "I don't put lights in to make bigger and bigger installations."

At "Sensorio," viewers see lights from numerous perspectives, including above and below, as they stroll the dirt paths bathed in softly lit colors. The result is a feeling of immersion in a world of quiet yet beautiful tranquility.

The exhibition, initially scheduled to close in January, has been extended through June, as its sponsors say more than 110,000 people from 41 countries have flocked to see it. Evening viewings often sell out ahead of time.

When it does close, Munro says, future visitors will hardly know it was there.

"Part of the reason we wanted to do solar is because there is no infrastructure that needs to be dug in," he said. "Ëverything is on the surface. When its time does go to disappear, and the landscape comes back, the existing landscape or something else that goes there, its footprint will be very minimal."

Meantime, the artist will move on to his next project. He's been busy sketching out something called "C-Scales," in which he hopes to create an image of the ocean "shedding its scales" into the air through the reflection of light upon thousands of old CDs and DVDs. He says the idea was inspired by gazing at Australia's Sydney Harbor.

Noting he recently turned 60, Munro reasons if he stays in good health he'll have the time to bring that and perhaps several other creations to the public.

"The trouble is it all comes too late, doesn't it?" he says, chuckling as he discusses the ideas he constantly fills his sketchbook with.

"You spend half your life not realizing all these ideas are spinning around in your head, and then suddenly the penny drops.

"Fortunately at least it's beginning to happen," he concludes. "Ï'm beginning to understand what it is to be alive, which is a joy."