James Turrell – the Michelangelo of our time

James Turrell. Foto: Morten Faurby

Since the 1960s, the American artist James Turrell (b.1943) has worked with light, colour, and spatial installations.

I think my work is better than mind-altering drugs because you can both see and relate to what you experience.

Today, he is the world’s leading artist in his field and he has created permanent installations in twenty-six countries. Turrell is a trained psychologist and also studied mathematics, geology, and astronomy. A common feature of his works is to envelop the audience in light and colour controlled by the artist.

James Turrell’s best-known work is Roden Crater – the world’s biggest work of art in an extinct volcano in the Arizona desert. He acquired the crater – four hundred thousand years old and three kilometres wide – in 1979 and since then, it has become a life-long art project. He is building an enormous observatory facilitating the study of the sky’s light qualities over a twenty-four-hour period. Turrell is also known for his Sky Spaces, the first of which was created in 1975. Turrell’s often colourful spatial installations resemble three-dimensional light paintings where he, like a modern-day Michelangelo, connects the earthly with the celestial and body and sentiment with mind and thought.