Internationally acclaimed artist James Turrell has been creating skyspaces since 1975. Knight Rise, located in the Nancy and Art Schwalm Sculpture Garden at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, is one of only 14 skyspaces open to the public in the United States.
Skyspaces frame the sky as pure color and show us “the changing light of the sky, altering what we see with our own eyes.” Skyspaces allow us to see the sunset (and sunrise) as never before. At those times it seems the sky has come closer, as if we can reach out and touch it. Turrell says his work provides the opportunity to “look at our own looking.” By doing so, Turrell grounds us in the present moment and reconnects us to the world we inhabit. As Turrell puts it, “we are dwellers at the bottom of the ocean of air. We create the color and shape of the sky. It does not exist outside the self.”
Emotion and Imagination
The effects achieved within Knight Rise are quite difficult, if not impossible, to describe. Because James Turrell’s art plays on our perception of light and color, on our emotions and on our imagination, each visitor will achieve an individual experience.
Some report that spending several minutes in the space becomes a meditative activity. Others sense great emotional tranquility. At sunrise and sunset the illusion is most dramatic: the sky appears to descend upon the viewer almost as if it were a tangible substance.
In a simple, physical act of viewing the sky purely as light, hue, and texture, the artwork completes itself. More specifically, an engaged visitor completes the experience that is Turrell’s artwork.
Artists and Light
Turrell acknowledges the influence of Impressionist painters such as Claude Monet, who painted the landscape around him focusing mainly on the elements of light and color. Monet observed the light and colors that were created when they interacted with physical objects, then he dissected the color, light, and material objects and merged them with the oil media onto the canvas. Turrell continues with this method, yet in his own style and medium. He combines the dynamics of light, color, and physical matter in order to sculpt light causing it to become almost tangible.
Color field painter Mark Rothko composed luminous paintings of complex color systems radiating off of the canvas. Turrell similarly employs color as focal point. In contrast to Rothko, Turrell’s representations of light give the impression of a three-dimensional home for the spectrum. Millions of color-infused particles seem to float directly in front of the eye, both teasing and quieting viewers.
James Turrell is recognized as one of the most significant and influential artists working in the world today, known internationally as a “sculptor of light.” Turrell holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology from Pomona College, with emphasis in perceptual psychology. He studied art at the University of California, Irvine, and holds a Master of Arts degree from the Claremont Graduate School in California. He has been living and working in Flagstaff, Arizona on the Roden Crater Project for nearly 30 years.
James Turrell is considered a master of light, and while many artists use paint to replicate light, Turrell uses light itself (sometimes manmade, sometimes natural) to create visual effects. His skyspace concept is part science and part art in its ability to filter and shape light in a manner that gives it a solid appearance. Some Turrell works are indoor installation art pieces, some are skyspaces, and his largest project yet, Roden Crater, is an environmental work located near Flagstaff, Arizona.