Week 5 Art Excursion – James Turrell Retrospective (NGA)

On the 5th of March the following students from Lake Tuggeranong College Year 11/12 Visual Arts and Media Classes attended the James Turrell Retrospective at the National Gallery of Australia.

The visual arts students are currently studying Painting and in particular ‘The Renaissance’. Although James Turrell is not a Renaissance artist he is a contemporary light and space artist. He is a mathematician, a qualified pilot, a Quaker and had over 200 exhibitions worldwide and of course he owns a crater in the Californian Desert.

His work in the exhibition deals primarily with silence, light and space and he could be deemed a contemporary ‘Renaissaince Man’. This is evident in his analytical approach to his mathematical eye in his aquatint prints, drawing studies, constructed light spaces and the reformation of thought you acquire after leaving the exhibition.

Students could draw parallels to how Turrell used light and colour in a contemporary sense similar to how Renaissance artists explored light and colour. However, it is totally unlike Renaissance Portraiture and on the other hand students could compare the same innovations and techniques of ‘chiaroscuro’ that Renaissance painters used to model paint to get a three dimensional effect in portraiture from their understanding of light.

Students also understood his extraordinary immersion of colour, which flooded every pore of your senses and they could draw a parallel to the advances Renaissance artists explored in colour through the preparation of pigments used to create paint resulting in colour no-one had ever seen before.

In Turrells realistic desert photographs of his crater, students understood and witnessed a contemporary approach of a parallel representation to the same technical advancement of paint application Renaissance painters used to create ‘Sfumato’ or the smoky and hazy effects in their landscapes.

Students and I were awestruck at the simple illusory complexity light and space can have on your mind and body when in isolated study.

David Hearne (Teacher Visual Arts)

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