Modern Design with – James Turrell

Our affinity with James Turrell’s work becomes apparent when you read the two words most often associated with the artist – light and space. A pilot at age 16, he became fascinated by the sky as a canvass for light and dark, and recalls going up early to watch the first sliver of sunlight break upon the earth.

His nearly half-century of work began in Santa Monica in the mid-60’s with his experiments in high-intensity light projection; blacking out areas, then controlling the space with the precise introduction of light. A one-man show of his Projection Pieces was mounted at The Pasadena Art Museum in 1967, featuring his creations that appear to the viewer as three-dimensional geometric volumes of brilliant light with mass and weight.

Next, Turrell began work on over eighty Skyspaces, chambers with an aperture in the ceiling open to the sky that explore how we perceive light and color. LED lights emitting vibrant colors often saturate the area surrounding a window Turrell has cut exactly to outline a particular view. In Turrell’s world, light makes its own architecture of space, space is defined by where light is or isn’t, more than by the solid materials in the surrounding area. Marc Whipple’s use of light and apertures are essential to his design concept. As the sun moves over a house morning through evening, effect, mood and color are altered and guided by the architecture.

The artist’s decades long project continues at the Roden Crater near Arizona’s Painted Dessert, extending his explorations of light and space from the studio into the landscape of the west. His goal is to bring astronomical events down into our earthbound experience. In addition to exploring the interplay of light and space in his art, Turrell has intently studied the visual phenomena that have interested man since the dawn of civilization, and the design of ancient observatories such as Machu Picchu, and the Mayan and Egyptian pyramids, as places for visual perception.

He acquired the 400,000-year-old crater in 1979, and is turning this extinct cinder volcano into a massive naked-eye observatory. It is designed specifically for the viewing of celestial phenomena, linking visitors with eclipses, solstice events, even distant galaxies with the use of skylights, tunnels, chambers and sculpture that guides our perception of the unfolding event. He has said he wants visitors to come alone and discover this art for themselves, “We have a primal relationship to light. We drink light.”

A retrospective of James Turrell’s work is at LACMA May 26 2013 – April 6 2014  See more here: