James Turrell, Vejer de la Frontera, Spain, 2005
Photographs: Simone Bossi

James Turrell’s democratic approach to art makes his works more than an exceptional experience. “My work is more about your seeing than it is about my seeing,” he declares and breaks through the barriers of human perception – things that are visible and those that can be experienced through feeling.

Mendota Stoppages 1969-74, Multiple exposure of stages 5 & 6
Photo: James Turrell

Artist’s works derive from his education in perceptual psychology and fascination with light. Turrell started creating his illuminations in the 1960s, inspired by the Californian “Light and Space” art movement. A breakthrough came with his works made between 1969 and 1974 at Hotel Mendota called “The Mendota Stoppages”. It is a series of photographs documenting Turrell’s light manipulations that searched for the direct relationship between the outside and the inside world.

James Turrell: Roden Crater, Crater’s Eye. Copyright James Turrell.
Photograph by Florian Holzherr

His ambition was to “understand” light and create light events that will contain it or adopt its form. This unique approach to immateriality can be intuitively connected with artist’s idea that humans live in a reality of their own creation, inhibited by cultural norms. In his art, Turrell wanted to break them, believing that light can connect the spiritual and the physical.

The most renowned of James Turrell’s works is a continuous project “Roden Crater”. In 1977, the artist has acquired a volcanic cone in northern Arizona that he has later modified throughout the years. By creating apertures and tunnels, he let the natural light to infiltrate the volcanic space. In this way, Turrell has conceived a non-invasive, entirely subjective experience/work of art that changes depending on the time of the day, the type of light or the alignment of stars. The material and ephemeral qualities of “Roden Crater” have become a symbol of contemplation of things solid yet evanescent.

Unseen Blue Photo: Florian Holzherr

From Pasadena Museum of Art through Stedelijk to Guggenheim, Turrell’s works have been displayed all over the world. Their biggest collection is now stored in a dedicated museum in Salta, Argentina. Described by the critics as “magical”, their uniqueness lays in the matter that makes them – human perception.

Installation view, James Turrell, February 11 – Aug 14, 2020, Pace Gallery, London. Copyright James Turrell. Photo: Damian Griffiths