Obituary | Willy Sparks Reno

Citizen X | Citizen LA

Pioneered Cyberspace Environments as Art, dead at 78.

Willy Sparks Reno, known in the secretive cyber arts community as “Sparky 1,” was declared dead on October 1st by a California Court. He disappeared seven years ago from his studio in Redwood City.

Reno’s virtual worlds were experienced by only a handful of associates and art critics, all of whom reported they were astounded by the power of his artificial environments to induce a false sense of reality. Reno used full-body that employed the same remote sensing technologies adopted by military medical researchers in their designs for remote-controlled combat diagnostics centers and emergency operating rooms.

Reno earned a Ph.D. in cybernetics from MIT in the seventies, but chose to pursue a career as an artist, building robotic mobile sculptures that seemed more interesting to critics for the technological innovations they employed than for any aesthetic sensibility. Frustrated by the lack of public interest and near impoverished, he returned to the tech sector where he quickly gained recognition as an innovative problem-solver whose patents for remote sensing technologies made him a wealthy man.

In the mid-nineties, Reno retired and devoted himself to the creation of virtual environments as total-immersion artworks. His most well known work, “Sunflower Fields” immersed the experience in the midst of a vast field of Van Gogh-inspired sunflowers. He constantly struggled to find ways to achieve more powerful, dynamic effects and to create environments in which touch, smell and sound were integrated. The technology he developed for this work was licensed by defense contractors and cyber pornographers, earning him a second fortune.

To Reno’s enduring frustration, the bulky full-body suits required to experience his virtual environments were available only in the lab and he never realized his dream of making his work available to a wider public.

He is survived by a daughter, Persephone.