Peter Erskine was born in New Haven, CT in 1941. He moved to Los Angeles in 1980, where he was inspired by artists using light and space as their media. While there, he developed Solar Spectrum Environmental Art, which uses sunlight, custom prisms, and architectural spaces to create an immersive art experience. His art is based on three Big Ideas: 1. Sunlight is energy. 2. All life is solar powered. 3. Everything is connected to everything else.
Many of Erkine’s installations made political statements about the environment. One such installation was the Secrets of the Sun: Millennial Meditations (S.O.S.) he did in Berlin, Los Angeles and Rome in the 1990s. In all of these installations, he used sunlight as the subject matter, medium, and energy source. The purpose of this art series was to show both the beauty and danger of the sun, and to wake people up about issues regarding ozone layer depletion, mass extinctions, and global warming. These installations were designed as an immersive experience with mirrors reflecting colors around the various architectural spaces while presenting information about extinct animals and our own impact on the environment.
Erskine also completed 3 permanent installations of a Rainbow Sundial Calendar. In these installations, he created a calendar showing the the astronomical time and date for a specific location. This calendar used a cross of light that was projected into an architectural space. Horizontal lines were added to the space to show the months of the year, as well as solstices and equinoxes. Vertical lines showed the hours and minutes. The calendar was read by seeing where the cross of light lined up with the lines on the walls.
Erskine created “Magic Carpet”, a permanent installation in the LAPD Valley Traffic Division Station in 2008. The purpose of this art was to make the station less intimidating for members of the public who visited it, as well as have a calming effect on the officers who worked there every day. In this installation, a heliostat solar tracking mirror mounted on the roof projects sunlight down a “solar shaft” lined with mirrors. There are two sets prisms on this mirrored tube. The first projects a rainbow into the police officer’s lounge and the second projects light into the lobby of the station. The heliostat mirror moves 7 degrees every 30 minutes, so light is always being projected into the mirrored tube. Because the position of the sun is always moving, the location and of the art projected on the walls changes with every hour of the day, and will also look different in the summer and winter.
Also in 2008, Erskine created the Tracery Rainbow installation in the Rotunda of the Fontana, California Library. In this space, the architect designed 4′ x 8′ Moroccan style panels on the outside of the rotunda, which Erskine then installed flat, laster cut prisms. The designs of the Moroccan panels combined with the prisms cast unique shapes of light around the circular reading room. Because the room is round, the shape of the light continuously changes through the day. When the sun is directly to the west, the prisms cast a 20′ x 30′ rainbow into the library atrium 200 ft. away.