Whenever I speak of New York and its cultural significance, I relate it to my experience of the artwork of James Turrell.

James Turrell is an American installation artist exploring the realms of space and light. Having recently gained notoriety for Drake’s plagiaristic rendition of one of his works in his Hotline Bling video. However, he is most well known for his ongoing and hugely ambitious magnum opus Roden Crater, which is Turrell’s attempt to convert an extinct volcano crater into a naked-eye observatory through a series of tunnels and apertures to showcase the beauty of celestial activity deep in the Arizona desert.

As a 19-year-old student completing my foundation degree, I went on a study trip to New York. Whilst studying art in various forms at school and throughout my childhood, I had never really been to any art museums of significance and now found myself, hungover with my newly found friends, at MoMA. What I was about to experience was mind-bending and conceptually eye-opening at that moment in my artistic pursuits.

James Turrell  - Adsum
A Turrell skylight.

To view James Turrell’s A Frontal Passage (1994), you are led through a darkened passageway, eventually drawn, like the moth to the flame, towards a warm red glow. Up until this point, I had only thought of art as being physical items: paintings, photographs and sculptures made from physical materials and objects. Upon reaching the chamber, you are confronted by a radiant wall of red light, splitting the room diagonally; something that you can physically feel, it imposes upon you. It invades your space, it is tangible but you cannot touch or move it. I left the room unsure of what had physically encountered and curious about the possibilities of materials and the power of an artwork.

Years later, having completed my degree in fine art and returning to New York, I would rekindle my love affair with James Turrell in the form of Aten Reign (2013). This work utilized the form of the rotunda of the Guggenheim as a canvas, with shifting elliptical colorscapes that lap over the viewer while they lay bathed in light and wonder, gazing skyward at the hypnotic show unfolding above.

James Turrell - Adsum
In a Turrell Wedgework, the use of projected light creates an illusion of walls or barriers.

If the topic of influential artworks ever arises, I revisit these pieces as fond moments in my creative memory and find that others touch upon a similarly religious feeling taken from their interaction with his works. When I think of New York, I always think of James Turrell.

Words by: Scott Causier