As a violent dust storm builds in the distance and the sweltering Nevada sun bakes the cracked desert floor below, a prismatic archway towers over tens of thousands of people reveling below. Though onlookers seemingly share in the same vision, their experiences of it vary depending on where they stand. Some see a it as a light blue crystal shimmering in the distance, others as a multicolored fantasy more fit for an alien planet than the physical realities of Earth.
Such is the appropriately named “Pulse Portal,” which debuted at 2016’s Burning Man. And though it may seem alien from top to bottom, its origins are anything but. Davis McCarty, the artist and visionary behind the sculpture, can attest to that.
“The thing about my work is that I tend to play around with things that resonate with people that have a ‘truth’ to it,” Davis says, describing his artistic style.
The Chicago-based artist utilizes a variety of tools at hand in order to uncover this truth. From projection mapping to wire frames, his experience is as varied and unique as his pieces. More recently, Davis has been taking a deep dive into the world of sculptures playing with a wide range of geometric shapes and designs—many of which are drawn from the world around us.
“If we look at fractals in nature, whether it be in a sea shell or a plant, we start to notice that there’s this persistent pattern,” says Davis. “Our universe is essentially governed by these shapes.”
This focus on natural elements is apparent in the Pulse Portal, which also makes use of a material called dichroic glass. Originally developed by NASA to protect astronauts from the unforgiving rays of space, the glass has the intriguing ability to appear to have more than one color at the same time. This is especially true if viewed at multiple angles.
“The cool thing about dichroic glass is that it’s simultaneously in two stages at once,” Davis explains. “The best way to think about it is that it’s basically the Schrödinger’s cat of art supplies. You could look at it and be a foot to your right and be looking at the same thing and you see blue but I see purple, and we could trade places and see two different things.”
The result is remarkable. Standing roughly 16-feet-tall, Pulse Portal bends your mind as much as it does the light around it. Due to this, the entire sculpture, as well as much of Davis’s body of work, seems to act more as a love letter to the marriage of symmetry and nature as much as it is a piece of art.
“What I’m doing then is that I’m looking to find or explain the universal truth that we see around us in an artistic way,” he says. “Ideally, we’re also just sparking someone’s imagination or creativity.”
That much is clear with Davis’s work, and the result was the renowned Honorarium Grant from Burning Man Arts, which awards artists a grant “for the purpose of funding specific art projects for display at Burning Man,” according to event’s website. However, Davis’s journey to the grant and worldwide recognition didn’t occur overnight. His hustle and dedication spanned the better part of a decade, studying sketching and painting in school and eventually letting his curiosity lead him to sculpture work.
“I just want to say to younger artists that are going at it and don’t seem like they’re making much headway,” he says, “they actually are. It’s not like anything happens in a linear fashion. You have to keep working and working at it. The quote that I like the most is that it only took twenty years and suddenly you’re an overnight success. I’ve been doing stuff for eight years and nobody ever really took notice until I did this one project.”