James Turrell was born in Los Angeles in 1943. Turrell’s work involves explorations in light and space that speak to viewers without words, impacting the eye, body, and mind with the force of a spiritual awakening. “I want to create an atmosphere that can be consciously plumbed with seeing, like the wordless thought that comes from looking in a fire.” 
Simple projection by James Turrell

Informed by his studies in perceptual psychology and optical illusions, Turrell’s work allows us to see ourselves “seeing.” Whether harnessing the light at sunset or transforming the glow of a television set into a fluctuating portal, Turrell’s art places viewers in a realm of pure experience. 

ART:21: Why do you want to work with light?
 
TURRELL: Certainly when people describe near death experiences, they use a vocabulary of light. And also when we have dreams, a lucid dream that's in this color, that really is I think quite, quite astonishing. So, in thinking of light, if we can think about what it can do, and what it is, by thinking about itself, not about what we wanted it to do for other things, because again we've used light as people might be used, in the sense that we use it to light paintings. We use it to light so that we can read. We don't really pay much attention to the light itself. And so turning that and letting light and sound speak for itself is that you figure out these different relationships and rules. Now there's a lot to do with sensory synesthesia as well, in that the feeling of light in so many ways - you probably have seen or handled a lemon and suddenly felt the taste in your mouth. I mean it suddenly floods your mouth. The perception through vision actually creates the sensation in taste. The same thing can happen in sound and sound can change the perception of color.

We think of color as a thing that we're receiving. And if you go into one of the sky spaces, you can see that it's possible to change the color of the sky. Now, I obviously don't change the color of the sky, but I changed the context of vision. This is very similar to simultaneous contrast, where you see a yellow dot on a blue field, versus the yellow dot on a red field. Same yellow dot will be seen as two different colors. The same frequencies come into your eyes through a difference of context of vision, and are perceived differently. We actually create this color. Color is this response to what we are perceiving. So there isn't something out there that we perceive, we are actually creating this vision, and that we are responsible for it is something we're rather unaware of. So I actually like to do that, and I look at my art as being somewhere between the limits of perception of the creature that we are, that is - what we can actually perceive and not perceive, like the limits of hearing or seeing - and that of learned perception, or we could call prejudice perception. That's a situation where we have learned to perceive a certain way, but we're unaware of the fact that we learned it. So this can actually work against you sometimes. Working between those limits and kind of pointing them out is something I enjoy doing because it's not just the fact that you are bringing the cosmos down into the space where you live, but that your perception helps create that as well. So that you really are this co-creator of what you're seeing.
 
ART:21: Can works of art impart a sense of spirituality?
 
TURRELL: People talk about spiritual in art, and I think that's been the territory of artists all along. You know, if you go into the great cathedrals made by architects and through the light of artisans, you have created a sense of awe that often is greater than what people feel when they read, or any sort of rhetoric by the priesthood. This is something that can be very powerful in a visual sense. And so the artists have always been involved in this; this is not something new. And I think that sometimes it's easier for people to approach that portion of the spiritual through the visual than through organized religion, and perhaps that's true today. But I also want to say that the senses and gratification through the senses, while it can direct you toward the spiritual, is also something that will hold you from it fully. That's the limits of art, and so I don't think that art is terribly spiritual, but it's something that can be along that way, be a gesture toward that.
ART:21 interview with James Turrell: http://www.pbs.org/art21/artists/turrell/clip1.html
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