James Turrell is one of the most avant-garde artists of the last century. The American, now in his mid-seventies, has been creating works that not only make you take a step back and reconsider what you know, but that have been challenging the very nature of what art is for half a century. No artist has the power to make you stop in your tracks more than the Turrell, whose contribution to contemporary art was recognised with ground-breaking concurrent solo exhibitions in 2013 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).
Born in Los Angeles in 1943 to Quaker parents (one a scientist and the other a doctor), Turrell initially perused psychology and astrology at university, while obtaining a pilot’s license in his teens. Soon however, he began turning his love of space, light, maths and religion in to art. He joined a progressive group of Light and Space artists including Doug Wheeler, Mary Coarse and Robert Irwin who were helping rebrand California as the place to be during the 1960’s for contemporary cool, working alongside painters and printmakers including David Hockney and Ed Rsucha. Turrell however, began creating installation works that explored a third dimension; they physical space surrounding him became the work of art itself. He wanted to be enveloped in a sensory sea of light and colour.
From there his ideas and oeuvre grew in to more ambitious projects – the most famous of which perhaps is Roden Crater – an extinct cinder volcano in Arizona. Purchased in 1979, the work is still under construction today as Turrell moves ton after ton of earth to create a naked-eye observatory for experiencing celestial phenomena above.
Closed to the public until completion, the only way to gain access is to complete a ‘Turrell Tour’, and prove to the artist you have seen his work in no fewer than 23 countries. He has also installed light works that bath churches in neon glows, written messages in clouds and inspired Drake's infamous video for Hotling Bling.
His other most famous series however, are his Skyspaces. Inspired by his childhood ethereal wonder, they take on the form of constructions in the shape of small dwellings, only ever large enough for 15 people, with seats around the edge and an aperture in the ceiling. The effect is that the sky above becomes a canvas stretched across the ceiling. In an ever-changing symphony of lights and blues and greys and blacks and pinks and stars and planets and rain and snow, celestial power feels both harnessed and unfathomable. Currently several Skyspace exist in the gardens of private collectors (including the stately home Houghton Hall in Norfolk), while others are in American galleries such as the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. There is also a hidden public one on the side of a mountain in Salzburg.
A new Skyspace however has just been created – and in one of the most wondrous settings yet. In 2017 the Amanzoe resort announced Turrell had created a skyspace in their grounds. Amanzoe is part of the luxury hotel group Aman, which since being founded in 1988 has built a collection of intimate retreats with the unassuming, warm hospitality of gracious private residences, and have redefined discreet luxury travel in destinations including Sri Lanka, Morocco, Italy, Japan, India, Bhutan and more.
Turrell's new work at Amanzoe is housed in an unassuming white room, six metres by six metres, perched on the edge of a strip of land where coast meets sea. It is perhaps one of the most fantastic artworks of the decade, and one of the masterpiece's of Turrell’s career. “Without light, there is no life. Amanzoe means ‘peaceful life’ and I hope those who experience this work will feel a peaceful sense of the power of the light,” said Turrell. “We are creatures of the light, especially sunlight. I use light to explore perception but I did not create the light. This work is about sharing the light.”
The work invites visitors to experience the expansive Aegean, where inhabitants have been drawn since the Bronze Age for its beauty and light, like never before. The azure mornings and coral evenings dance like a work of art above the installation, which makes visitors stop and appreciate the surroundings in a totally different, un-obscured way.
The artwork is situated inside one of Amanzoe’s villas that comes with its own private 22 metre pool, kitchen and terrace, on a Peloponnese hilltop surrounded by olive groves, herb gardens and the glistening sea, so visiting the work becomes sensory overload in more ways than one. Guests can spend their days admiring the installation, or for a truly unique and world-first experience, even dine under it. It’s a wonder it took Turrell so long to find his magic in a Mediterranean setting and shows that the artist has no sign of slowing down or pushing frontiers to make the public stop, and look heavenwards.
James Turrell, Sky plain, 2017 at Amanzoe, Luxury Hotel and Resort in Porto Heli, Peloponnese, Greece.
Are you following us on Instagram? Click here.