“I make spaces that apprehend light for our perception, and in some ways gather it, or seem to hold it…my work is more about your seeing than it is about my seeing, although it is a product of my seeing.”
— James Turrell
For over half a century, the American artist James Turrell has worked
directly with light and space to create artworks that engage viewers with the limits and wonder of human perception. Turrell, an avid pilot who has logged over twelve thousand hours flying, considers the sky as his studio, material and canvas. New Yorker critic Calvin Tompkins writes, “His work is not about light, or a record of light; it is light — the physical presence of light made manifest in sensory form.”
Informed by his training in perceptual psychology and a childhood
fascination with light, Turrell began experimenting with light as a medium in southern California in the mid-1960’s.
Turrell often cites the Parable of Plato’s Cave to introduce the notion
that we are living in a reality of our own creation, subject to our human sensory limitations as well as contextual and cultural norms. This is
evident in Turrell’s over eighty Skyspaces, chambers with an aperture in the ceiling open to the sky. The simple act of witnessing the sky from within a Turrell Skyspace, notably at dawn and dusk, reveals how we internally create the colors we see and thus, our perceived reality.
Turrell’s medium is pure light. He says, “My work has no object, no image and no focus. With no object, no image and no focus, what are you looking at? You are looking at you looking. What is important to me is to create an experience of worldless thought.”