August 3, 2020 – By Tess Hardy
Art galleries are slowly shifting back to normality from curated online exhibitions and digital walk-throughs. American artist, James Turrell, epitomises the artistic use of colour and perception. His contemporary installations and projections are particularly focused on these areas, in conjunction with light and space.
We were fortunate enough to visit James Turrell’s exhibition at Pace Gallery in London before the country went into lockdown. It’s now reopened to the public, alongside its digital version, and we want you to know about it!
On View: James Turrell
James Turrell is my absolute favourite artist. I first visited a James Turrell exhibition four years ago when I travelled to Houghton Hall in Norfolk during my university years. I didn’t think much could top that exhibition, but that’s the magic in Turrell’s work – it never fails to provide an experience.
Born in 1943 and now 77 years old, Turrell received a degree from the early 1960s onwards in perceptual psychology, from Pomona College in Claremont, California, followed by a degree in art from Claremont Graduate University.
His skill as a pilot and additional studies of mathematics, geology and astronomy all inform his practice in investigating ways of extending and enhancing perception through light and indeterminate space.
Colour and Perception: An Artistic Revelation
Explanations of how we perceive have long been manifested in the arts. Colour and light are two of the simplest yet sensorial aspects of existence. They are complicated areas of study, which highly depend on perception. The approaches taken towards perception itself remain ambiguous. Is perception internal or external? Does it solely depend on the powers of the eye, or is it also affected by peripheral space?
The contemporary art of James Turrell turns perception into pure experiences through the use of space, light and colour. For Turrell, the role of colour is to make his work aesthetically pleasing, as well as to entice elements of psychological emotion.
So, what can you expect to see?
Turrell’s principal concern to capture light in an art form, through the merger of art and technology, has led him to explore how we see. He has stated,
By capturing light in a dark space, this juxtaposition successfully creates illusions of atmospheric perspective.
Turrell’s emphasis on “the act of seeing is an act of feeling” is disclosed in his London exhibition. Viewing his art provokes an immediate reaction – which for myself is a positive experience.
Encompassed in Turrell’s Constellation series are wall-based shapes of curved glass within which LEDs are designed to gradually change in colour over a considerable length of time. The prolonged intervals between the subtle and strong hues help to assert appreciation and admiration of the sublime field of colours. Moreover, the action of attentively watching them with an active, enquiring mind allows for a silent, yet sentient understanding of the notion behind Turrell’s work.
Turrell appreciates the basis of perception as “pure experience” – a mindful experience of instantaneous apprehension by means of ideas and sensations. This moves beyond art as an object, instead concentrating on “the act of seeing” and creating art as pure, insightful experiences. Turrell clearly states his intention for the viewer to be conscious of the act of perception:
This appears to be a sense of art appreciation at its most self-reflective. If one is willing to be open-minded and invest time in the observation of Turrell’s art, then there is a chance for the experience to heighten reflection. The more you look, contemplate and observe, the more you absorb the work and its beauty.
As an artist of the sublime himself, Turrell has contributed to contemporary colour theory with sensation-based art. However, from the viewer’s perspective and personal experience, it is difficult to distinguish a true perception under the visual conditions of Turrell’s installations.
The power of sight becomes impaired by the total loss of depth perception through the controlled use of light and niche colours. Furthermore, the initial intensity of Turrell’s installations appears to fade steadily into less forceful doses of colour. This is due to perceptions of transience, however, and not the feature of colour itself.
The Essence of Pace Gallery
Pace Gallery is the perfect venue for this exhibition. Its small capacity creates a safe haven, offering a sense of exclusivity and security. The open-plan room holds nothing but the artwork. You can sit down in front of the art for a moment of mindful contemplation, or walk up close to see how your eyes are perceiving each piece.
The multi-sensory and mindful experience of James Turrell is an artistic revelation. His fascination with colour existence and perception are of paramount importance to the visual arts. Although we are surrounded by colour and we constantly perceive, this tends to be overlooked in everyday life. Art has the powerful ability to enhance each element considerably. As notably stated by Turrell, we are looking at ourselves looking, reiterating how art can heighten the viewer’s surroundings and sense of self. Furthermore, one can establish that the relationship between colour and perception is one of interdependence; there is a mutual reliance. Without colour, what does one see? Equally, how can one perceive colour without perception?
James Turrell’s exhibition is open to the public with advance booking until Friday 14th August. For a profound and pure experience of his perceptual work, you can schedule a visit by appointment via email here, or make a reservation here.
If you’re unable to visit the exhibition in person, you can visit the gallery’s online viewing room here.