Jack Champion awoke in the wee hours Sunday, frightened by a nightmare that his truck was being burglarized. The feeling spurred him to check on the vehicle, which was hooked to a trailer carrying parts of two massive art installations he planned to exhibit at Burning Man this weekend.
When he went outside, the Oakland resident realized the nightmare was true: A thief was in the middle of boosting the pickup — and his artwork, titled “Homage au Dali.”
Champion said he pounded on the windows, shouting, “Don’t do this! Don’t do this!” He grabbed hold of the driver’s side roof rack and was dragged for two blocks before the man stealing the truck slammed on the breaks and Champion fell to the ground.
He watched, helpless, as his artwork was spirited away.
The Oakland Police Department said it is investigating the theft, which occurred about 1 a.m. Sunday outside Champion’s home on Hannah Street. The 67-year-old artist described the thief as a man in his mid-20s with a mustache and wearing a gray hoodie who drove his silver 2006 Ford pickup with license plate 8E11419 away into the night.
“I poured my heart and soul into this,” Champion said of the artwork. “It was all brutally taken away in an instant. I’m pretty much lost right now.”
The Burning Man installation was a detailed replica of Salvador Dali’s painting “Los Elefantes,” complete with a large, ornate picture frame with Dali’s signature in the upper right. Dali’s painting depicts two elephants with long, thin legs.
“This was going to be that, re-created in the desert,” said the artist, who has attended Burning Man for 10 years and has become a beloved part of the festival. In 2016, he created the iconic raven statues, which since have been featured in the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.
His elephant statues would have been 32 feet tall, with decorated saddles covered in LED lights. The artwork took 10 months to create, Champion said.
The art community has rallied to help find the stolen works, posting photographs and details of the theft on Facebook.
“I got involved with Jack’s story because I live by the principles of do to others what you would like others do for you,” said artist and former Burning Man employee Clody Cates. “I wanted to do all that I could to find it.”
Champion said he won’t attend Burning Man this weekend and the theft has accelerated his plans to sell his Oakland studio and leave the city. He said he just wants closure and is asking the public to contact him or police if they spot his creations — even if they are destroyed.
“This artwork has no value to the thieves,” he said. “I’ve got to put this to rest. It’s killing me.”