Nothing’s scarier than being jolted awake by a nightmare and realizing it’s actually happening. When West Oakland artist Jack Champion dreamt that his truck was being stolen around one in the morning on August 18, 2019, the night terror was so real he rushed outside to check on his vehicle. Sure enough, a moustached man in his 20s wearing a gray hoodie was driving away in Champion’s truck. Attached to that truck was a trailer carrying two enormous art installations he was finishing up for the next week’s annual Burning Man festival.

The two giant elephants Jack Champion was working on in tribute to Salvador Dalí for the 2019 Burning Man Festival.

Champion’s Burning Man art installation, called “Homage au Dalí,” was a meticulous sculptural reproduction of Salvador Dalí’s painting “Los Elefantes,” which features two elephants with long, slender legs. Champion’s replica was enclosed in an outsized, elaborate picture frame with Dalí’s iconic signature in the upper righthand corner. When complete, Champion’s elephants would have stood 32 feet tall and sported saddles decked out in LED lights.

A Futile Rescue Attempt

The two giant elephants Jack Champion was working on in tribute to Salvador Dalí for the 2019 Burning Man Festival.

Champion had been creating his statues over the last 10 months, so he was understandably frantic to recover them from the thief. He even ran after the departing truck, grasping the roof rack above the driver’s head and shouting, “Don’t do this! Don’t do this!” After being dragged for two blocks, the robber slammed on the brakes, throwing Champion to the ground before speeding off into the night.

Champion’s “Murder” Sensation

Champion started attending Burning Man a decade ago. In 2016, he decided to present his first solo art piece at the festival. “Murder” was the name of that installation, which featured five crows made from resin. Champion later recreated the gigantic birds in bronze for presentation at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.

One of the giant crow sculptures featured in "Murder," a previous Burning Man installation by California artist Jack Champion.
One of the giant crow sculptures featured in "Murder," a previous Burning Man installation by California artist Jack Champion.

The inspiration for “Murder” came from a fondness for crows passed on to him by his grandmother, who herself had a pet crow when he was five years old. Spectators were filled with awe when it was unveiled at the festival, as the desert setting perspective made the sculptures look small when viewed from a distance and grow in size to over 10 feet as they came closer to them.

Catching the Culprit

Champion’s body and spirit were too injured to attend this year’s festival. After being dragged for two blocks whilst clinging to his stolen truck, he decided to sit out this year’s Burning Man celebration. His community has since rallied to find his truck, posting pictures of both it and the artwork on the street and social media.

“I poured my heart and soul into this,” Champion told a reporter. “It was all brutally taken away in an instant. I’m pretty much lost right now.” His truck was previously stolen in 2018 and later recovered, but this latest incident has Champion anxious to sell his studio and home and move out of Oakland.

"Elephantes," a painting by the iconic Spanish surrealist Salvador Dalí.

The robbery took place around 1 AM on Sunday, August 18th at the intersection of 32nd and Hannah Streets in West Oakland. The stolen truck is a 2006 Silver Ford F-250 with license plate 8E11419. Make sure to contact the Oakland Police Department with any information you might have to help bring Champion’s elephants home.