James Turrell b. Los Angeles,1943-

Artist, Medium: Light


Bio- pertinent info
Artist James Turrell grew up in Pasadena, CA under Quaker influences and went on to study mathematics and perceptual psychology at Pomona College. He received his MFA from Claremont college then continued his education in art at University of California at Irvine. He has been a pilot since the age of sixteen. He currently works on many installations here in the states and abroad. His studio is outside of Flagstaff , AZ where he also works as a rancher.

Turrell maintains meaning with his Quaker upbringing, often reflecting to a moment in his childhood when his grandmother told him to go into a Quaker meeting room and "greet the light". His art uses light as a medium, transcending the norms of tradition.

Turrell manipulates artificial and natural light to influence perception. What the viewer sees becomes the cause and essence of the art. He was part of the Post War, Post Modern movement in the late sixties and early seventies and became well known as a light and space artist. He created optical structures by directing colored light. Turrell constructed what appeared to be rotating floating cubes and cut frames in walls lighted from behind. Only a discerning gaze can recognize that it is light instead of filled space. One infamous occurrence happened at the Whitney Museum 1981 retrospective where three people fell through one of Turrell's lighted “walls”, trying to lean on it. One was the wife of a judge who broke her wrist and lawsuits ensued.

He began to build skyspaces and sky lights, which are enclosed spaces with an aperture in the ceiling, framing the sky. Benches surround the interior so that the viewer can contemplate, escaped from the rush of things we don't see.

The spaces constantly change with the outside environs; time of day, clouds and even the elements in some cases (rain and snow) can effect the experience so that it changes every time a visitor enters. The visitor becomes the art and the artist, like looking through the lens of a camera, or making animal shapes out of the clouds on a summer day, the view of self reflects the encompass of feeling.

Turrell has said that his Skyspace works "apprehend, gather and hold the light for our perceptions". He compares it to that of The Allegory of the Cave, by Plato. He thinks of our cultural perceptions of reality as being imperfect. Meaning that his Skyspaces can be a personal reflection into parts of the self that we often ignore, like light. He also compares the spaces to being like big pinhole cameras that capture a moment, I think the viewer is the lens, the little pinhole that lets in the light.

The use of light as a theme is an interesting concept. Painters throughout the centuries have used light in there art to accentuate, cure and postpone. Think of the suspense of the Baroque and Renaissance idolization of the body. Curve and detail, the line, all created to accept the light. Colors breaking beyond the color wheel into the spectrums of pervading hues doesn’t have to be beyond the everyday perception. Recognizing feelings associated with the way we see the world and how it makes us feel doesn’t have to be taught or explained. Analyzing our feelings is counterproductive.

Located on the new campus of the Sculpture Garden is the installation, Sky Pesher by James Turrell. From afar, a square of concrete protrudes from the ground, resembling part of the newly finished parking garage below. Closer, through the waning remnants of Ralph Rapson’s Guthrie Theater and through the Walker Staff parking lot, a slotted path leads to the underground bunker nestled in the knoll outside the windows of the Cargill Lounge. The path leads through a corridor into a 23 square ft room. Smooth slate gray stone heated benches with high slanted backs surround the lower half of the walls. Artificial light behind the seat backs illuminates the white painted walls up to a curving ceiling that ends with a 16 sq ft opening in the center, framing the sky.

In Sky Pesher, Turrell uses the natural light to create shadow images on the floor and artificial light to soften the interior of the enclosure. By looking up into the sky, combined with the mood enhancing space, the piece evokes reflection and wonder. Turrell wants the viewer to look at the light, something we don’t normally accord materiality to. We’re used to light illuminating something else, not being an actual object. The space lets perception become unfocused, and like a lucid dream, colors become vivid and sincere. The word pesher is a Hebrew word meaning interpretation and Sky Pesher lets the viewer interpret a sense a being distant from an everyday reality.

The ongoing Roden Crater Project (1978- ) outside of Flagstaff, AZ is one of Turrells’ most publicized pieces. Built into a volcanic crater, there are multiple sky spaces constructed into the dormant mound, one framing the moon every 18.6 years (2006), another the sun during the summer solstice. The reflections appear upside down like a photo negative on an opposite wall from that which they appear. The space is vast and multilayered and at the peak 7,000 ft tall. It is an ongoing project. (Can be compared to natural art like Spiral Jetty in the great salt lake by Robert Smithson).

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