James Turrell


James Turrell (born May 6, 1943) is an American artist known for his work within the Light and Space movement. He is considered the "master of light" often creating art installations that mix natural light with artificial color through openings in ceilings thereby transforming internal spaces by ever shifting and changing color.

Much of Turrell's career has been devoted to a still-unfinished work, Roden Crater, a natural cinder cone crater located outside Flagstaff, Arizona, that he is turning into a massive naked-eye observatory; and for his series of skyspaces, enclosed spaces that frame the sky.

Turrell was born in Los Angeles, California, and grew up in a Quaker family. He obtained his pilot's license at the age of 16 and later registered as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, flying Buddhist monks out of Chinese-controlled Tibet. Turrell's academic background includes a BA degree from Pomona College in perceptual psychology and further studies in mathematics, geology, and astronomy. He began experimenting with light projections during his time in the graduate Studio Art program at the University of California, Irvine, which laid the foundation for his later works.

Turrell's innovative use of light and space has earned him numerous accolades, including being named a MacArthur Fellow in 1984. His works, which explore perception and the nature of light, have been exhibited in major museums and public art spaces worldwide.

Wikidata identifier


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Turrell's work deals predominantly with creating spaces that challenge both the viewer's physical and psychological perception of the world, often using lighting with fixed durations or concealed light, empty space, silence, and darkness. He studied psychology and mathematics at Pomona College in Claremont California from 1962-1965, and took a course in fine art at the University of California, Irvine from 1965-1966. His first works were set up in studio or exhibition spaces, where he created geometric shapes on bare walls using cross-projected halogen lights. Many of his works were to reach beyond the gallery, and in 1977 he purchased the Roden Crater, and extinct volcano in Flagstaff, Arizona. Scheduled to be completed in 2002, the work will lead the viewer inside the crater and through a series of walkways and staircases to rooms that feature different ways to view the crater and sky above, emphasizing, the space, stillness, and silence of nature.

Country of birth

United States


Artist, environmental artist, installation artist, painter, sculptor

ULAN identifier



James Turrell, James Archie Turrell

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Information from the Getty Research Institute's Union List of Artist Names ® (ULAN), made available under the ODC Attribution License. Accessed July 5, 2024.