On any given day and in all types of weather conditions, nature artist Bill Dan can be seen balancing rocks at Fisherman’s Wharf, Crissy Field or on the waterfront of Sausalito. Since he began this practice in 1994, he has become a well-known local figure, often attracting large groups of spectators who gather around him while he creates vertical rock sculptures that seem to defy gravity.
Completely self-taught as a rock balancer, he plays upon the possibilities inherent to the interaction of rock, mass and gravity to create his nature art. There are several forces governing his approach: concentration and a positive attitude, along with an understanding of and respect for materials. His philosophy is that balancing rocks is play and work, beauty and craft. Sometimes building up to 10 sculptures in a day, he acknowledges that the act of physical labor, of hours spent stacking heavy rocks, depends upon his being in a good mood.
He keeps his work as simple as possible, to be an antidote to the complications of modern living. His source material is the “stone riprap” for their seemingly endless supply and varying shapes, sizes, colors and textures. The abstract sculptures he leaves behind do not conflict or compete with the beauty of their surroundings — they merely allow viewers to appreciate nature in new ways.
Spark catches up with Dan and witnesses that his work is both public and performance art. The crowds observing him get different things out of it. For some it is meditative and spiritual in its simplicity; for others, Dan’s ability to balance large stones perfectly on small rocks — without the use of any adhesive — is awe-inspiring. Unlike many public art pieces, his are not bound for permanence, and upon completion, the sculptures are left to endure the elements. It is part of his art to accept that his rock formations are temporary and ephemeral, even fleeting.
Bill Dan left his native Indonesia more than 20 years ago. He says that his friends and family back home can’t believe what he does. Still at it, he is out there every day doing what he loves: building sculptures and sharing his simple philosophy with others. Not limited to shores, he has been invited to perform at events and to teach schoolchildren the importance of using creativity and imagination over drugs.