James Turrell – experiencing light and space

James Turrell is a master of light, colour and space. His work mesmerises and instils a sense of wonder  along with, at times, a sense of fear because you can’t always tell where the boundaries are in the light-space. It can be a perplexing experience. Standing in a room with a wall that was illuminated with a pinkish light, forever morphing in tone and intensity – I turned to complete darkness and realised I couldn’t see anything, nor could I understand where I was in space or have any sense of distance or depth. I could hear other people in the room but I couldn’t see them – not even as shadows or outlines. I stood stock still. The attendant had told me that there was a bench at the back of the room but I honestly couldn’t move because I didn’t know or understand where I was in relation to the back – or for that matter the side.   So I ventured closer toward the light and put my hand out. There was a wall. And along this wall I slowly inched my way across until I felt the corner and the further wall. I can’t fully explain my sense of relief. At last I felt that I was grounded and could once again negotiate my way through space. But interestingly too, at this vantage point I watched the light move and change. The light began to look like a huge rectangle of pure colour and reminded me of Mark Rothko’s beautiful series of red paintings at the Tate and his Stations of the Cross. Around the edges of the form (though form is a concept that is very tenuously applied to Turrell’s work) was an outline of white – or the absence of colour. And what this does to your eyes – or vision – is amazing. Light is made up of colour and you see all these variations in that space. Finally I turned away and slowly made my way out, now feeling much more comfortable with the darkness. And of course the closer I got to the entrance/exit the less there was of a sense of absence of all light. To exit the room was another revelation/experience. Your eyes adjust and automatically produce the complementary colours – in this case green.

“My art is about your seeing, like the wordless thought that comes from looking into fire,” he says. He uses light as a material to influence and affect people’s perception, blurring the boundaries between flat and 3D geometries.“I put you in a situation where you feel the physicality of light,” says Turrell. “I am interested in this new landscape without horizon.”
James TurrellThe Retrospective at the National Gallery of Australia explores almost 50 years of Turrell’s work – projections, holograms, purpose-built installations, photographs and prints. Turrell’s works are amazing because they just keep on keeping on. They are an entirely solitary experience and one that at times made me smile with delight. How wonderful is light and colour and how blessed we are to be able to experience it in all its purity and glory.

To learn more about James Turrell, visit his Artsy page.

David Hockney – a master colourist

I first came across David Hockney’s work through the lithographs of Celia Birtwell, way back in the 70s when I was an art student studying printmaking. I loved these images, the simplicity of the line work with its subtle wash – stylised but capturing a moment.

On exploring Hockney’s work further I saw an exhibition of his LA Swimming Pool series and again I was struck, not just by the naturalness of the image/subject matter but at the complexity of the structure and composition that made these images so alluring; they were so quintessentially modern.

David Hockney, Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) 1972

Many decades later I was fortunate to see a wonderful exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia which showcased the work of Dale Chihuly as well as featuring Hockney’s A Bigger Grand Canyon. For me it was one of those ‘wow’ moments. Coming out of the wonderfully curated Chihuly show – which was akin to walking through Aladdin’s Cave – to see this incredibly strange painting consisting of many small canvas boards in the strangest colours was one of the highlights of my art viewing.

What made it so special was a short film that accompanied the work: David Hockney talking about his process in constructing this amazing piece. Not just the footage of him driving his convertible along mountain rides listening to Bach, but also his using photographs of multiple viewpoints and then the process of colour selection. I finally sat down right in front of that painting and it took my breath away. I was able to experience it from so many different points of views (perspectives) that it wasn’t a static image, it was an alive and deeply moving colourful experience. Sadly, the NGA has now hung this masterpiece on a wall over the escalators so that it’s impossible for anyone to really see/view/experience it, or indeed understand what all the fuss is about. I don’t understand why this decision was made as I think it remains of the true great works in the collection.

David Hockney, A Bigger Grand Canyon” 1998

One of Hockney’s ‘tricks’ is to eschew traditional perspective – a fifteenth century construct which is fixed  – and opt for a more subjective view. He sees his objects from multiple perspectives, from many views and many sides and angles and manages to capture the visual experience of being in the presence of the depicted image. Masterful.

So it was with great anticipation that I wanted to see the NGV’s exhibition of Hockney’s new works: Current. And yet, when I expressed my interest and asked if people wanted to go see it with me, the response was lukewarm: ‘nah’, not really interested.
I had talked to a friend who had seen it and she related how impressive the digital/iPhone images were and Hockney’s discussion of his art making on video. I definitely wanted to see this. I had also seen a very short interview with Hockney on SBS about this show and the glimpse of the images impressed me with their bright colour and sheer joyfulness. I was going to see this show.

And so I did. I managed to convince a friend to see it with me – he and I went to uni together to study Art History and although he was sceptical about the show, he was gracious enough to come. I’m extremely pleased to say that he was blown away and thought it one of the best shows he’d seen. Hockney is not just a master of colour he is a master of invention.

Hockney’s use of the iPhone (and then the iPad) to create ‘pictures’ is mesmerising. His use of colour is breathtaking and his skill, well, I think he is one of the greats. And at age 90 he is making inroads and creating works that not only astound but delight. If ‘joy’ was something I had expected to experience, I found it to be so much more than I could ever have contemplated. There were so many ‘wow’ moments in viewing those works; so many mouth-gaping ‘how is that possible?’ that I came away convinced that I had seen one of the greatest shows of the 21st century (second only to an exhibition of Anselm Kieffer that I saw at the Royal Academy of Arts in London).