"Beauty in the ugliness": California artist turns wood scorched by wildfires into art

Calif. artist turns scorched wood into art

Darren Sarkin is making art to shine a light on the ongoing crisis in California – two subjects he knows a lot about. The Los Angeles-based artist designs lighting and installations for movie studios, musicians and corporate events. But his latest project is a bit more personal. 

It began a little more than two years ago, after the Sand Fire tore through the Angeles National Forest, torching more than 40,000 acres of land in less than two weeks. What Sarkin found driving through the area was shocking.

"Suddenly around me the hillsides were covered in black ash and tree nubs sticking out of the soil so I got out and something encouraged me to drag a few pieces of wood back to my car. And then I just had them in my house wondering, 'What am I going to do with this?'" Sarkin told CBS News contributor Jamie Wax.

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Darren Sarkin   CBS News

The answer? Bring the wood back to life. He meticulously carves grooves through the wood and fills them with strips of LED lights, then adds shards of recycled glass and applies polyurethane to preserve the finished product.

"I'm trying to find some beauty in the ugliness. Trying to bring life to death," Sarkin said.

His pieces are now part of an installation titled "Burning Light," which is currently on display at the West Hollywood gallery Radiant Space.

"I had gathered a couple small pieces of wood before I came across this. The charcoal falls apart so easily that I was trying to delicately haul a 100-pound log back to my car and keep it from breaking too much," he said.

Sarkin has always been drawn to the outdoors. When he's not working, he's hiking and scaling mountains. That passion for nature has fueled the "Burning Light" project.

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"Burning Light" exhibit CBS News

"The initial inspiration for this came when I was climbing El Capitan in Yosemite in 2015. On the ground all around us beautiful green, lush nature … but at about 1,000 feet up, suddenly seeing everything from above could just see how dry and dying the forest looked," Sarkin said.

Another influence for Sarkin is his cousin, a firefighter for the Ventura County Fire Department. Currently there are 8,000 firefighters on the front lines fighting six significant fires across the state.

"I feel what inspires me most about this kind of work is that it brings attention to what's going on around us. The timeliness of this is total accident. It's painful," Sarkin said.

Over the past five years fires have engulfed nearly every corner of California. Satellite photos capture the plumes of smoke across the state and, according to NOAA, the smoke has reached all the way to the East Coast. It makes "Burning Light" a uniquely modern work of art. 

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