It took Jim Denevan and his team of a dozen two days to make the sand sculpture at Sunny Cove Beach.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
City Life

Did aliens land at Sunny Cove? What we know about the sand sculpture that took over one local beach

It took renowned local artist Jim Denevan and his team two days to build the installation that’s drawn wide notice on social media, a test run for a project that will be three times bigger and will feature in a Middle East art festival over the winter.

Santa Cruz social media were abuzz over the weekend after an enormous piece of sand art took over Sunny Cove Beach in Live Oak. And yes, it’s the latest from renowned local artist Jim Denevan. Lookout’s Kevin Painchaud found Denevan at Sunny Cove on Monday and got the scoop.

The What: A sand sculpture featuring dozens of hills of varying sizes, arranged in circles. As with much of Denevan’s work, it’s subject to the whims of Mother Nature, in this case particularly the tides.

The So What? One Facebook poster said they were told “the king of Saudi Arabia wanted this done here to see if he wanted it done in Saudi Arabia,” and while Denevan was tight-lipped about those details, he did confirm that it was for an art festival set for the Middle East in February. That project will be three times as big, so “the team is trying to figure out how many people we have to hire to pull it off,” Denevan said.

It took a team of between 10 and 12 people two full days — beginning at sunrise Friday — to complete.

Backgrounder: Denevan’s work has appeared across the United States, including New York, Miami Beach and the Nevada desert, and at sites around the globe including the ice of Russia’s Lake Baikal. He’s also the entrepreneur behind moveable outdoor feast Outstanding in the Field, and the subject of the documentary “Man in the Field,” made by local filmmaker Patrick Trefz, streaming now.

Denevan works only on commission, sometimes taking just three jobs a year. Big-name customers have included Range Rover, Hyundai and Stussy.

Voice: “This thing in the Middle East will be serious artwork — the whole space will be nobody can touch anything, just walk between the hills,” Denevan said. “But at a public beach, the kids go crazy running around, which I’m totally happy with — I just shoo them toward the bigger hills to have fun on.

“You can be reverent about it or you can make a mess — it’s totally appropriate.”

Artist Jim Denevan in the middle of his sand sculpture.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Fact Check: Lookout reached out to the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington but had not heard back as of publication time, so that detail remains unclear. But with many area kids out of school for the Thanksgiving break, it was clear they were glad to have the unusual playscape on a 70-degree day Monday.

What’s Next? Denevan expects the sculpture will last another eight or nine days at Sunny Cove before higher tides and perhaps rain smooth his work over. Meanwhile, he’s planning another hilly sand sculpture at San Francisco’s Ocean Beach for the New Year, and is looking for volunteers to help out. He’d be happy to hear from interested, shovel-equipped parties via his Instagram.