James Turrell was born in Los Angeles in 1942. His college studies included perceptual psychology, mathematics, and art—subjects that continue to inform his artistic practice today. In the 1960s, Turrell became part of the California Light and Space group, a collective of artists who produced artworks as pure visual experiences, rather than as images or objects, often incorporating such materials as glass, phosphorescent materials, and acrylic. With this group, Turrell experimented with using high-intensity projected light as a physical material. The artist’s sculptural and architectural installations, created for indoor and outdoor spaces, offer viewers an experience of total immersion vastly different from an encounter with an artwork in a typical gallery space. In one of his works, an electric beam offers the illusion of a wall; in another series, which he refers to as Skyspaces, an outdoor room with a large opening in the ceiling offers a view of the ever-changing sky.
One of Turrell’s major Skyspace
projects is the excavation of the Roden Crater, an extinct volcano in the Arizona desert. He has been transforming this huge site into a celestial observatory for more than 30 years. Once it is finished, viewers will enter the volcano to observe reflections of the sun, moon, and starlight on the crater walls. He describes the power of this work as actually “changing the shape of the sky.” Influenced by the majesty of nature as well as the awe-inspiring great cathedrals, Turrell is drawn to the spiritual in art and ways that it can be expressed with light and space.