Peter Erskine’s Solar Environmental Art

The information in this blog is taken from Peter Erskine’s website

Bringing Mother Nature into a Building

Can you remember a time you saw a rainbow glowing in the sky? How that first glimpse took your breath away, and brought a burst of joy? Now imagine stepping inside a twenty foot high solar rainbow beam you can actually reach out and touch – with colors so rich, no photo or video could ever hope to capture them.

Erskine Solar Environmental Art

As the Earth spins, circling the Sun, huge living rainbows slowly glide through an Erskine light installation, gradually changing shape and color with the seasons. The entire space becomes a giant prismatic sundial linking us to the cosmos. The architecture is experienced as a grand unified gesture, quietly resonating with the serene beauty of celestial light. We feel whole, serene, peaceful.

Solar Powered Sustainable Art

Peter Erskine’s solar environmental art is based on three big ideas:  1. Sunlight is energy.  2. All life is solar powered.  3. Everything is connected to everything else.  In Erskine’s art, our Sun is not only the subject matter of the work, but the medium and energy source as well.

Making History

In 1990 Erskine invented a new Solar Spectrum Environmental Art medium he named Secrets of the Sun: Millennial Meditations (S.O.S.). More than something to be looked at, S.O.S. is a immersive participatory experience. It is Erskine’s meditation on the beauty and dangers of human interaction with Solar radiation: The beauty of the rainbow, and the horrors of global warming, ozone depletion and mass species extinction. Secrets of the Sun uses the emotional impact of art to address the full range of Nature from its most elemental expression as pure light to its most complex expression as global ecology.

In 1992, Secrets of the Sun: Rome premiered at Trajan’s Markets, a two thousand year old architectural jewel in the ancient Roman Forum. Viewer/participants arrived at the provocative ancient site, donned a white jump suit, signed a “legal” damage waiver, then followed a ritual path into darkened rooms, where they actually stepped inside huge beams of natural rainbow color. Their white jump suits became living canvases, as millions of gradually changing colors flowed across their bodies, mixing and creating colored shadows on the ancient walls, marble carvings and other visitors.  And the entire ritual experience, including text and spoken word, was infused with a subtle, real-time, ambient sound installation created by sound artists Bruce Odland and Sam Auinger.  It transformed Rome’s fossil fueled traffic noise –  into musical harmony. Their pioneering work with Erskine in Rome created the deep inter-connectedness of Secrets of the Sun.

After experiencing the Rome installation, art historian and critic John R. Clarke wrote, “Erskine has developed a project that is more holistic than any site-specific installation… more thought-provoking than any conceptual piece… and visually more enthralling than any painting, sculpture, or light-installation work in the past two decades.”

A New Kind of Public Art

In 1993, Secrets of the Sun: Millennial Meditations traveled to Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt and in 1995 to Los Angeles’ historic Union Station. From the beginning, Erskine’s solar public art received extraordinary coverage in the global media, including seven magazine cover stories in four languages, over 100 press articles, and six global satellite broadcasts. TV and radio stories featuring Erskine’s  Solar art have been broadcast in over 150 countries. By the time the three year S.O.S. tour ended in 1995, Erskine was recognized as an international artist of light. Since then, he has leveraged what Dr. Salk might call “our genetic love of the rainbow” to create a new medium of serene and healing public art for hospitals, railways, libraries, ancient Roman sites, museums, police and fire stations, commercial buildings, environmental centers – and homes – in Europe and North America.

Sustainable Art for the Coming Solar Age

Each of Erskine’s light art installations grows organically from the Solar, cultural and architectural context of its Place. All of Erskine’s site specific environmental installations are powered by hundreds, or even thousands of watts of renewable energy. S.O.S. Rome employed a 10′ x 10′  heliostat solar tracking mirror that reflected up to 8,000 watts of Sunlight into darkened rooms of the ancient Roman Forum. Solar panels provided all of the electricity for the sound, the motorized laser cut prisms and the solar tracking technologies for this green art installation. And in 2000, the seventy two, roof mounted laser cut prisms of Erskine’s solar art installation CROMOS, in Milan’s Central Station, refracted up to 90,000 watts of solar spectrum light onto platforms and trains, creating moving rainbow beams 80 feet long and 150 feet wide. Quite possibly the world’s largest indoor rainbow. Experiencing an Erskine Solar Art installation is like walking into our Solar Future – today.


After Erskine graduated from Yale in 1963 with a bachelors degree in Political Science, he traveled to India on a Fulbright Fellowship. Fresh from completing two Graduate School studio art courses his senior year, he became enthralled with the play of light on the sensual relief surfaces of classical Indian temple sculpture. That formal vocabulary continues to influence Erskine’s work today. In the 1960’s and ’70’s his wood and fiberglass sculptures were shown in American galleries and museums, including New York’s Whitney Museum Sculpture Biennials. Later in the 1970’s, Erskine’s work moved from sculpture in the round, to subtle low relief, monochrome fiberglass wall panels, and works incorporating 23 karat gold leaf. Throughout the 1980’s, Erskine focused on Light and Space installations illuminated by combining Solar and electric light.  Then everything changed. He saw a giant rainbow beam on the wall of the Exploratorium in San Francisco – and had to make art out of it.

Rainbows to Nature

“In the beginning of the Solar Spectrum artwork in the eighties, I could only figure out how to paint with Nature in the darkened spaces of my studio, or in a darkened museum. Since then I’ve been evolving ways to work with Sunlight in the broader environment. Now my canvas stretches to the bright interior spaces of hospitals, libraries and railway stations – and even to gardens and parks.

Now my art meets the Sun’s – in Nature.
~ Peter Erskine

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