Exploring Bruce Munro's Field of Light in Paso Robles

Christine Delsol | July 3, 2019 | Lifestyle

The experience that comes with age tends to change your perspective on the world. British artist Bruce Munro’s perspective shift was brought on by an otherworldly experience in the Australian outback, the sensation of holding his newborn baby and the blow of his father’s death. Those events led to a dream, which led to Bruce Munro: Field of Light at Sensorio.

2_BruceMunro_2018_MarkPickthall_resized.jpgBruce Munro’s largest work to date, Bruce Munro: Field of Light at Sensorio, will be on view at Sensorio in Paso Robles May 19 through Jan. 5, 2020.

Since Munro’s light installation opened at the northern edge of Paso Robles in May, thousands have experienced his dream of an interconnected world while walking through nearly 60,000 solar-powered fiber-optic spheres atop acrylic stems of varying height, emitting waves of ever-changing color. The installation on 15 undulating acres is not so much a separate work of art as an echo of the landscape.

The Field of Light’s relation to the terrain is impossible to miss and nearly impossible to describe—it’s less about seeing than feeling. The thousands of mesmerizing lights may appear as synapses firing in your brain’s landscape, or a great city seen from afar, or a field of flowers. They may weave a cocoon of light from the stars above and the glowing spheres below that seem to reflect and magnify the celestial points of light. But there’s no escaping Munro’s sense of the landscape as a living being that proves the interdependence of everyone and everything.

Munro, 59, was manufacturing display signs using a glowing ultraviolet plastic in Australia in the late 1980s. A visit to Uluru, a monolith famous for its continually shifting hues of red, yellow and brown, left him gobsmacked. “What I hadn’t bargained for was the power landscape can give you,” he says. “The shape of it and this amazing color change—it feels really alive, like you’re plugged into the landscape.”

1_Uluru-FOL_Serena-Munro-1.jpgMunro’s Field of Light in Uluru, Australia.

To express his epiphany in three dimensions, Munro chose the medium he already knew. His first light installation was at his studio in rural Wiltshire, and he has since shed light on rural and urban spaces in the U.K., Australia and across the U.S. His West Coast debut was at Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga this past winter.

The earlier Field of Light installation Munro created at Uluru in 2016 is still in place. Among the more than 200,000 people who have seen it is Paso Robles developer Ken Hunter, owner of top-rated Hunter Ranch Golf Course across the street from Sensorio. Hunter lost no time getting in touch. “He said, ‘We’ve got this concept called Sensorio.’ [Hunter and his wife] really understood the connection I felt with Uluru,” Munro says. “I can only claim that I am part of the whole. This isn’t art where you stick the artist on a pedestal. It’s telling the truth that we are all completely reliant on each other.”

3_Albany-FOL_Mark-Pickthall-2_(1).jpgField of Light in Albany, Australia.

For Munro’s largest installation yet, Sensorio’s executive director, Tracy Strann, says it took 15 people working eight hours a day, five days a week, for five weeks to get Field of Light ready to open. Though the current season is scheduled to end in early 2020, she hopes to extend it by another year. For now, Strann is working on Sensorio’s second phase, due in 2021—an interactive, immersive attraction and a botanical garden. The third phase, due in 2024, will be a resort.

Visitors to Field of Light will find Paso Robles offers other ways to interact with the landscape. Mineral-rich thermal water springing from fissures in the Earth’s crust, for example, have drawn health-seekers since California’s early mission days. You can take the waters at River Oaks Hot Springs Spa, a little-known leafy retreat where subterranean water is piped in to private tub rooms that overlook the hills and vineyards of Paso Robles. Topping the special packages on the full spa menu is the three-hour Good Life Getaway ($395), including a 60-minute mineral soak with a bottle of sparkling wine served tubside, 60-minute Swedish massages and European facials for two.

Agritourism here means wineries to most visitors. To boost the “ag” factor, book one of Central Coast Trailrides’ horseback excursions that wind through private ranches, vineyards and lakes. Kiler Ridge Olive Farm offers olive oil tastings, production tours and guided orchard walks. Wed.-Sun., timed entry approximately 7-11pm; VIP Experience from $142, adults only, includes private terrace seating and gourmet picnic dinner; adult general admission from $34; through Jan. 5, 2020, 4380 Highway 46 E., Paso Robles

Originally published in the July issue of San Francisco

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Photography by: Photos by Mark Pickthall; Uuru Field of Light Photo by Serena Munro; Albany Field of Light Photo by Mark Pickthall