Artist Donald Gialanella Discusses New Palm Desert Installation

“Sunburst” at San Pablo Avenue and San Gorgonio Way is the city’s newest — and largest — piece of public art.

June Allan Corrigan Arts & Entertainment, Sponsored

The large-scale sculpture was recently installed on the roundabout at San Pablo Avenue and San Gorgonio Way.

Ethereal is not a word one typically associates with 12,000 pounds of stainless steel. Yet “Sunburst” — Palm Desert’s newest and largest art installation — manages to give that impression despite being composed of heavy metal.

Credit Donald Gialanella, an artist who specializes in the design and fabrication of public art, for achieving such a feat. The St. Petersburg, Florida–based artist answered the call for submissions when Palm Desert was seeking ideas to enhance the roundabout on the newly revitalized San Pablo Avenue at San Gorgonio Way.

Armando’s Bar

The artist with another sculpture in his studio.

 Gialanella’s was one of two submissions the city was considering, and when put to a public vote, his “Sunburst” design aced the competition.

No stranger to the desert, Gialanella lived in Topanga Canyon for six years and visited the Coachella Valley frequently. Inspiration for his winning design came during one of his daily mind-clearing walks. “The sun was dappling through the palm tree foliage above me, and I was seeing little stars,” he says. “I got to thinking that would be a perfect design — something akin to a burst of sunlight.” Believing it would suit a desert setting, he got to work.

Turning his vision into a reality required more than a few sketches. It took Gialanella several weeks just to perfect the way the rays were going to radiate out from the center of the burst. “And of course, it had to be practical and supportive,” he says, explaining how additional time was spent working with an engineer to ensure the installation would be stable. “Sunburst” took a year and a half to complete.

tacquila palm springs
tacquila palm springs

There were logistics to consider as well. Entirely laser cut and TIG-welded together, “Sunburst” is 25 feet tall with a base diameter of approximately 17 feet. The sculpture’s rays are comprised of painstakingly textured, half-inch stainless steel plates, and Gialanella estimates its four support legs weigh 4,000 pounds alone. Built in his Florida studio, the piece was shipped to California in pieces that had to fit certain dimensional parameters and required some assembly on-site.

“There’s the creative half of a project, and then there’s the engineering half of a project,” the artist says. “The real fun for me is creating the initial design of a piece. That’s the ‘wow’ moment, when I get to dream up a fantastic design. And then the not-so-fun part is actually making it real in 3D and doing all the engineering. That’s the moment I wonder why I proposed such a crazy idea in the first place!”

tacquila palm springs

Residents and merchants are certainly glad Gialanella came up with the concept of “Sunburst” and persevered through its creation and accompanying logistics. Installed this past November, Gialanella’s abstract representation of the sun is indeed ethereal — which was his intent all along. “The ultimate goal for me is have the aesthetic of a sculpture come through and belie [or disguise] any materials I used to create it.”

The city will host an official dedication ceremony in January. For details, visit