5 September 2016

A Visual Alphabet of James Turrell

From having Drake cite him as an inspiration, to flying Buddhist monks out of Chinese-controlled Tibet during the Vietnam War, to visitors tripping out in his installations and suing for their hallucinatory effects – there's a lot to talk about when it comes to one of the pioneers of the light and space movement. I've given fashion houses like Chanel, Céline and CDG amongst others the Visual Alphabet treatment already so it's about time that one of my favourite artists gets his time in the light (pardon the pun).

A is for arrested
His studies at UC Irvine were interrupted in 1966, when he was arrested for coaching young men to avoid the Vietnam draft ­– he spent about a year in jail.

B is for bushy beard
He has a long beard and a full head of silver hair that he often tops with a black cowboy hat. Quite the look.

C is for california
He was born in L.A. and studied in Claremont so the Golden State is pretty significant for him – not to mention the fact that it's also where the Light and Space movement originated.

D is for drake
“I fuck with Turrell. He was a big influence on the visuals for my last tour” chirped Drake. The Hotline Bling video in particular is an obvious nod to the artist and he even got some insta-loving from Champagne Papi too, lucky man. 

E is for exhibiting early experiments
“67 68 69” was a two-part exhibition at Pace Gallery devoted to projection works that mark the start and earliest stages of his five-decade career.

F if for filing lawsuits
During a Turrell show at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1980, several visitors to a piece called “City of Arhirit” became unsteady in the bright blue haze and tried to brace themselves against a wall made of light. One woman, who broke her arm, sued the Whitney and Turrell for more than $10,000, claiming that the show made her so “disoriented and confused” that she “violently precipitated to the floor.” Bit dramatic.

G is for guggenheim
From June 21 through September 25, 2013 NYC’s Guggenheim Museum presented "James Turrell", the artist's first exhibition in a New York museum since 1980. He also received a Guggenheim fellowship.

H is for hallucinatory
Before viewers climb into the Perceptual Cells, Turrell makes them sign waivers to certify that they are 18 years old, sober and sane. One of the curators of the Guggenheim exhibition, Nat Trotman, viewed the Perceptual Cell at Lacma and said it has “rewired” his thinking and was “very aggressive and very hallucinatory.”

I is for immersion
The viewer literally steps into his work and becomes part of it. It’s said that in order to understand his work, you have to experience it and so it’s this level of interaction that has the impact.

J is for james turrell museum
In April 22, 2009, the James Turrell Museum opened at the Bodega Colomé in the Province of Salta, in Argentina.

K is for kimye
Kim, Kanye, North, Kendall and the whole Kardashian/Jenner clan turned the Turrell MoMA retrospective into the backdrop for an Instagram shoot. They plastered this image amongst several others all over social media for us all to oogle over.

L is for light and space movement
He emerged as one of the foremost artists associated with the movement, which began in Southern California in the mid-1960s. John McCracken, Larry Bell, and Robert Irwin are most often associated with this term – this work alternatively dubbed “California Minimalism” or even “Finish Fetish Art,” to align it with the meticulous aesthetics of California car and surf culture.

M is for moscow
It was here that the artist’s laptop was suspiciously wiped, just six days before his retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, erasing a lot of vital work and light transitions.

N is for natural light
In the 1970s, Turrell began his series of "skyspaces" which are enclosed spaces open to the sky through an aperture in the roof and letting in natural light.

O is for object
“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 wordless thought.”

P is for perception
His degree is in Perceptual Psychology and so the testing and manipulation of perception forms a huge chunk of his work. It allows the viewer to put their own experiences and thoughts into what they see, making everyone's interpretations as different as they possibly could be.

Q is for quakers
His parents were Quakers so he was raised as one, designing multiple Quaker spaces over his career. He says that his faith gave him a “straightforward, strict presentation of the sublime.”

R is for roden crater
Located in the Painted Desert region of Northern Arizona, it’s an unprecedented large-scale artwork created within a volcanic cinder core by the artist. 6 spaces were completed, including two of the most difficult, the shaping of the crater bowl and the alpha (east) tunnel. The sun/moon chamber, east portal, and the crater’s eye, are joined by the alpha (east) tunnel and a connecting tunnel to the crater bowl. The project contains an otherworldly 21 viewing spaces and 6 tunnels.

S is for seventy-three
At 73 years old, he's contributed his fair share to the light and space movement and the general West Coast art scene alike. With a wealth of knowledge and experience, he's a figure of inspiration for a new generation of creatives who can only dream of creating what Turrell has.

T is for tibet
The artist acquired a pilot licence when he was just 16 years old. He registered as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War and ended up flying Buddhist monks out of Chinese-controlled Tibet. Some writers have suggested it was a CIA mission; Turrell called it "a humanitarian mission".

U is for unna
The German city where since 2009, his Third Breath has been part of the permanent exhibition of the Centre for International Light Art (CILA).

V is for vuitton
Turrell has a permanent exhibit inside the Louis Vuitton store at CityCenter in Las Vegas. The work is known simply as "Akhob".

W is for wolfsburg project
In October 2009, the "Wolfsburg Project," Turrell's largest exhibition in Germany to date opened and continued through October 2010.

X is for (e)xtra-terrestrial
Turrell took part in an Art and Technology programme at the Los Angeles County Museum. Here he collaborated with Dr Edward Wortz, a physiological psychologist who was researching extra-terrestrial conditions for NASA's Apollo Program.

Y is for yutacan
A series of Skyspaces and pools constructed within a pyramid in the Yucatán integrates many of the principles and features embedded within Roden Crater.

Z is for zen zone
Tibetan monks playing "thungchen," or long horns greet visitors to the Temple of Wisdom in Beijing – home to his his “Gathered Sky” installation.