Printing the Light
…My work is more about your seeing than it is about my seeing, although it is a product of my seeing.
Nothing describes the work James Turrell better than these words. Stemmed from the Southern California Light and Space movement of the 60s and 70s, he grew into a luminary [in the most curiously literal sense of the word] of contemporary art, globally acclaimed as the light artist. Exploration of light was not a novelty in art, but James Turrell dared to use light itself in his creative process, rather than trying to depict it with other media. His installations hold the essence of light, they are enlivened by it, but not in the same way as with neon artists, such as Meryl Pataky or Tracey Emin, but in the more substantial, universal sense. Observing it as a natural phenomenon, immanent to major philosophical and religious ideas, light is approached as the supreme matter, the nourishment, the basic necessity of humans, whereas Turrell captures it in his variously inventive structures, rendering it accessible to human perception. Even though physical light is the core of his artistic expression, James Turrell engaged in creating a print series, in the technique of the Japanese Ukiyo-E school. The artist’s first woodcut series was thus made, realized in collaboration with Pace Prints New York.
Born in 1943 in Los Angeles, James Turrell enrolled in studies of psychology and mathematics at Pomona College, later obtaining his MFA at Claremont Graduate University. Creating in circles driven by Southern California Light and Space movement, Turrell devised a style which focuses on handling of light, including projections, sensory deprivation, color fields and installations. James Turrell is a greatly respected figure, having won numerous awards over the course of his career. He was a MacArthur Foundation Fellow in 1984, and only last month, he received the 2013 National Medal of Arts, presented to him by President Obama. In addition to numerous exhibitions, he had a grand installation created at Guggenheim Museum in New York in 2013 entitled Aten Reign, and April brought the end of his comprehensive retrospective at LACMA, which lasted about 10 months.
Suite from Aten Reign
Print series created in collaboration with Pace Prints is actually a Suite from Aten Reign, a major project realized in Guggenheim last year, which redefined the museum rotunda introducing changing artificial and natural light into it. The dramatic transformation of the spectacular Frank Lloyd Wright building evoked Turrell’s earlier works, such as Skyscapes, or his most famous long-time ongoing project Roden Crater Project, initiated in 1979. Photographs of the light moving around the rotunda served as the visual foundation for this print series, comprised of three Ukiyo-E style woodcuts. The prints were made by Japanese master printer Yasu Shibata, while the exhibition will showcase six blocks and proofs used in the making of the series.
James Turrell: Prints and Process
The key objective of printers was to capture the same sense and depict the light on paper, as if it were coming directly from a light source. Shibata was responsible for achieving this effect by contrasting oil-based background with water based ink, coming amazingly close to the visual quality of the inspirational light installation, which was not possible to be shown on photographs. Concentric ovals are composed of shades of green, red and blue, all hand carved, while the main challenge of the printing project was the necessity to build an oversized roller, which would help create ideal background color gradients. Each woodcut print was made using 14 colors, 12 woodblocks and one metal plate. The experimental exhibition of James Turrell is entitled James Turrell: Prints and Process, and it’s opening at Pace Prints, E. 57th Street, on September 11, running through October 18, 2014, promising to catch the light on paper, making it tangibly physical.