At the extraordinary James Turrell exhibition at Pace London, I felt as if I was falling back in time. I’ve shared so many conversations with Turrell over the years.
It was he who first taught me how to look at his work, and spoke to me about light. It was he who introduced me to the Quaker religion to which he belonged, and would sometimes invite me to worship with them.
When I told him about a magazine I subscribed to, “Quakers in the Arts,” he laughed as I explained how it was more of a xeroxed newsletter than a magazine. But the editors made up in enthusiasm what they lacked in budget. There had been an article in one issue about Turrell and his work and how it related to Quakerism. The writer mused on her desire to see Turrell’s masterpiece, The Roden Crater, an extinct volcanic crater in the middle of the desert that he’d made his life’s work, turning it into an incredible piece of land art.
So Turrell and I decided to invite her, and all of the Quakers in the Arts to visit the Roden Crater.
They were thrilled! From all over the states came water-colorists, quilters, and poets. It was a fine day at Turrell’s ranch, with hay rides and a picnic, and we even sat in silent worship together.
After lunch we piled into cars to make the arduous journey through the rough terrain to the crater itself. I drove in front with Turrell and a long line of Quakers followed. We were a little concerned about their small cars on the gravel road that twisted for miles, but everyone arrived in one piece.
At the gate, Turrell got out of the truck only to come back right away, panicked. “I forgot the keys.” What? “I forgot the keys.” James Turrell had forgotten the keys to the Roden Crater and there were 12 carloads of Quakers idling expectantly behind us.
There was only one thing to do. We broke in. I won’t tell you how we did it, just that we did it. Because not many people can say: “I broke into the Roden Crater.” But I can. Yes, I can.