Architectuur & design Must See

The Master of Light: James Turrell’s iconic body of work

It’s not unlikely you’ve heard the name James Turrell before, even if only in passing. This iconic artist’s body of work spans approximately 50 years, inviting spectators to view light in a different way, and explore its relationship with their own perceptions.

The son of an aeronautical engineer, James Turrell obtained his pilot’s license at just 16 years old, and ever since then has had a fascination with light. Having further trained in perceptual psychology, Turrell has continued to push the boundaries in his experimentation with light and the perception thereof since the mid 1960s.

Ever-changing canvas

Turrell’s love for flying certainly impacted his practice, viewing the sky as his studio, material and canvas. One of his earliest works was Mendota Stoppages, a series of light works exhibited in his studio, in which he combined both projection pieces and structural cuts in the building, inviting the visitors to look out, and starting him on his path toward his later work.

James Turrell is especially well-known for his Skyspaces. In building a chamber with specific proportions – or indeed, integrating one into an existing structure – and incorporating coloured or diffused light with the framed sky through use of apertures in the ceiling, he challenges our perception of colour, and in using colour contrast questions what your mind then perceives, as the sky appears other than its natural form.

Challenging perceptions

Alongside his famous Skyspaces, James Turrell continues to challenge our perceptions, even in confined or enclosed spaces. His Shallow Space constructions use controlled lighting to challenge the viewer’s depth perception, while Ganzfeld installations engulf a full space in a single colour of light – the German word indeed describing the loss of depth perception as one experiences a white-out.

With a staggering cult following and not an only endless body of extraordinary work, but still more to come, James Turrell has truly earnt his title of the Master of Light.


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