Thursday, August 1, 2013

James Turrell: Deep Sky

James Turrell. American, born 1943. Untitledfrom the portfolio Deep Sky,1985. Aquatint printed in black on BFK Rives paper. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1985:17-1.

James Turrell’s installations – sky drawings, light projections, and “skyspaces” – are artworks made for both nature lovers and stargazers. A key member of Southern California’s Light and Space movement, Turrell began his artistic career in sunny Los Angeles in the 1960s and continues to explore the experiential qualities of light to this day. Turrell’s work is currently on view in several major museums throughout the country this summer – the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston,and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

James Turrell. American, born 1943. Untitledfrom the portfolioDeep Sky,1985. Aquatint printed in black on BFK Rives paper. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1985:17-2.

Influenced by his studies in perceptual psychology as well as his Quaker faith, Turrell illuminates light’s natural and supernatural qualities. His work consists of light projections in interior spaces, architectural manipulations such as cutting a hole in a structure’s ceiling to allow natural light to seep into a room, or even a naked-eye observatory created out of an extinct volcano in the Arizona desert (as in Roden Crater,begun 1977). However, not all of his work is so ethereal or monumental. In the SCMA collection, his first print portfolio Deep Sky(1985) translates the experience of light into two dimensions, bringing a new level of tangibility to his work.

James Turrell. American, born 1943. Untitledfrom the portfolio Deep Sky,1985. Aquatint printed in black on BFK Rives paper. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1985:17-3.

The seven prints in Deep Skyseem to undulate between renderings of natural landscapes and abstractions of pure light and shadow. While the first print in the portfolio (top) resembles the silhouette of a volcano below a vast night sky dotted with stars, each of the subsequent five prints takes a sharp turn toward the abstract. Turrell gives us suspended shapes which evoke rays of light cutting through complete darkness, combined in ways which defy concrete understanding. Perhaps these images are loosely related to the volcanic site of Roden Craterand its light-filled spaces which Turrell was still in the process of creating in 1985. What ultimately ties the images together is the subtle presence of tiny stars in each print. These images simultaneously resemble scientific renderings of such abstract visual phenomena in Turrell’s gallery pieces as well as evoke the awe-inspiring experience of observing the night sky in a vast, open landscape.

James Turrell. American, born 1943. Untitledfrom the portfolio Deep Sky,1985. Aquatint printed in black on BFK Rives paper. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1985:17-4.

James Turrell. American, born 1943. Untitledfrom the portfolio Deep Sky,1985. Aquatint printed in black on BFK Rives paper. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1985:17-5.

James Turrell. American, born 1943. Untitledfrom the portfolio Deep Sky,1985. Aquatint printed in black on BFK Rives paper. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1985:17-6.

The final print in the Deep Skyportfolio (below) is an almost equally ambiguous image of what appears to be some sort of land surface set against that same dark sky with a bright white orb shape in the bottom right corner. It is unclear whether this image is meant to be the same desert environment viewers may associate with Turrell’s Roden Crateror whether this is some imaginary celestial body. This elusiveness is exactly what makes Turrell’s Deep Skyprints so intriguing and captivating.

James Turrell. American, born 1943. Untitledfrom the portfolio Deep Sky,1985. Aquatint printed in black on BFK Rives paper. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1985:17-7.

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