James Turrell: “we are dwellers at the bottom of the ocean of air.”


James Turrell is a master of light.

We went to the de Young in San Francisco to check out the Ed Ruscha exhibit a couple months ago.  We had tickets to see the museum, too, and we were excited to explore properly.  A friend of mine was married at the de Young years ago, but we weren’t able to fully explore the museum then.  Plus, I wasn’t too interested in photography yet.

Thus, years later, we devoted a day to exploring art.  In addition to the Ed Ruscha exhibit, a main push to visit the museum was my desire to visit the James Turrell exhibit just outside of the de Young: Three Gems, 2005.  (For those of you in San Francisco this fall, the exhibit will be open on Friday nights with a light show.)


The sculpture is a calm dome of space, and one could sit there indefinitely, watching the atmosphere flow by overhead, contemplating peace and quiet.

In fact, I was almost embarrassed at the loud clack of my camera as I pulled light in to rest on film.  A silent agreement to observe in silence was made.


We were in a vase of air, the frogs at the bottom of the well, believing, even for a moment, that the sky was merely a changing disk of light at the top of the upturned bowl.  The soft curves of the walls drew me in, held and cradled me like a babe.

Nothing could find me here, I felt.  A breath of a moment.  A slice of peace in our tumultuous world.

It was literally poetry for my eyes.  For my soul.



Things I think about when I’m left to the whims of my brain:

  • How do I get the same feeling of peace on my own, when I’m not surrounded by a structure that was carefully crafted to force upon someone a feeling of gentle surrender?
  • How did James Turrell decide on the angle of these curves?  What inspired him?  What inspires me?
  • Why don’t I go to art museums more often? Why don’t I seek out art more often, when it makes me so happy?
  • Then, darker . . . What am I doing with my life?  Why did I choose my career path? Why didn’t I choose art?  Wouldn’t sculpture or photography be better?  Where was I going?   Was it the right place to be, at the right time?

Perhaps I should spend more time on my own, thinking, browsing, feeling.  Soul seeking is always a good idea, I think.  I haven’t done enough of it, recently.  Instead, I hide behind a curtain of work and the fog of daily minutiae, never confronting what my teenage self once relished– the art of picking myself apart to find my weaknesses.  But then picking myself up to face the next day all over again.

How long could I have sat there, pondering?

I didn’t want to leave.

But I kind of did, too.


So off we went.  Sculptures awaited outside, and we walked those green gardens for a while.


The entire De Young is a work of art, from the artwork hanging within its halls to the surfaces that form the building, and, with an entire afternoon to meander quietly, we did so.

For those of you who wonder what I look like.  Hello.  I need to cut my hair.

Sidebar: Tomorrow is our election day.  Let’s see what happens.  May there be plenty of James Turrell to go around if the results go awry.

//35mm film photos taken with my Canon AE-1 at the De Young in San Francisco, CA in September 2016.

14 thoughts on “James Turrell: “we are dwellers at the bottom of the ocean of air.”

  1. It’s indeed poetry for the eyes! I like that and I love how you captured some of the pieces perfectly! Great eye for art!

    I myself could only dream of becoming a photographer someday and I love art too, so I ask myself the same question, “Why did I choose this career path?”

    Anyway this was a lovely post! Good luck on the election tomorrow! Can’t wait to see who wins!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nowadays, with cameras embedded in cell phones, anyone can be a photographer! You just need to get out there and take photos. Do it!! And it’s a hard question to answer- why you chose a career path. But, as we go on, we figure it out. My dad always told me: Do what you love, and if you can’t do that, then do something that will pay for doing that which you love. So that’s what I strive to do.

      As for the elections– I’m eagerly waiting the results! Let’s go!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Me too! Funny coz that’s what I’ve been doing for years now, sort of like a plan B, but we’ll definitely get there!

        We’re watching the news all the way from the other side of the world!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Glad to hear it! Photography is the best. 🙂

        As for our election– Everyone I know is waiting with bated breath. It’s the most stressful thing that’s happening right now!!! (And where are you watching from?)

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh I must go here soon. This artwork is fascinating. Like you said- why don’t I go to museums more often?! It is truly a unique experience when you resonate with an artist’s piece of work.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Right?! You must go! I really should go more often, but it’s so easy to let the weeks lapse and suddenly find yourself months later, having done nothing you’ve promised yourself you would do. 🙂 But definitely go check this piece out.

      Liked by 1 person

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