Discovering James Turrell's "Blue Pesher"

Discovering James Turrell's "Blue Pesher"

It seems that Nashville surprises me in the best and, what feels like, the most random ways. Take my first introduction to Hillsboro Village’s Fannie Mae Dees Park, aka “Dragon Park”, for example. I still remember the feeling when first stumbling upon that brightly-colored mosaic dragon...It was magical (...still is...especially since the city has done so much work to improve the dragon and the rest of the park)! Or when I first discovered the culinary treasures hidden in plain sight on Nolensville Road.  Now I know where to find the best, most authentic Mexican food in town. Or, maybe I’m a bad Nashvillian, but I knew not what was in store the first time I walked into Robert’s Western World, a naive young woman on Broadway. A Bud heavy and a bologna sandwich is now on rotation every time I find myself on Broadway pre-or-post Bridgestone, The Ryman, Ascend...you get my drift. What has been by far my favorite random stumble, though, is the first time I (quite literally) stumbled upon Blue Pesher by James Turrell at Cheekwood.  Very much by accident, I thought myself lost and far from the sculpture trail when I walked toward this mysterious building (sculpture?...bunker?...).  I was pretty damn sure I was approaching an off-limits shed used to house building materials belonging to the estate. Turns out, what I discovered was a highly treasured, yet relatively unknown, piece of art in Nashville’s abundant collection.  

Mark W. Scala, Chief Curator of Nashville’s Frist Center for the Visual Arts, perfectly guides you through what you’ll find when embarking on the sculpture in this excerpt from his piece on James Turrell in Nashville Arts Magazine:

“In Nashville, the power of harnessed light can be seen at Cheekwood, where Turrell’s Blue Pesher nestles at the edge of the sculpture trail. The city’s most exceptional work of outdoor art, Blue Pesher is a simple affair, just a partly buried concrete bunker with a circular skyward opening. We enter it through a long corridor, and then sit on a concrete bench encircling a field of black gravel. As we look up toward the aperture, we perceive it as both a disk of light and a solid sphere—an emptiness that silences the mind and a fullness that suggests the sufficiency of absolute form.”

That is largely what I love most about Turrell.  His pieces are meant to light a fire of curiosity in you - to focus on a moment in time and see its changes with the blinders on, a suggestion I find people are often against.  As referenced by Scala, “James Turrell [is an artist] who architecturally frames light to create human-scaled arenas for the contemplation of pure and numinous experiences.”

My trip to Cheekwood on the day I discovered this work of art was not my first. I am an avid art lover.  So much so that I trudged through many upon many dreaded studio art courses at MTSU to earn my art minor and, in doing so, offer myself the ability to cram in as many art history courses as I reasonably could.  Because of this, I was already familiar with James Turrell. I knew of his works with Architectural Light, I knew of his acquiring the Roden Crater, and I was familiar with his Skyspaces (which is what we have at Cheekwood).  So, imagine my shock as I discovered I was unknowingly experiencing this piece of art with a likeness to what I studied just one year prior in class. Magic.

As years passed, I told others of this piece and was, understandably, met with vague interest and half-earnest promises from friends to experience the sculpture themselves.  That is...until I stumbled into my favorite East Nashville brunch spot, Dino’s, to get my breakfast burrito (bacon, egg and cheese of course). Tara Walters, who, as fate would have it, was my barstool-neighbor, is an artist herself whose work with fire is breathtakingly delicate.  After some small talk and prolonged conversation, Tara brought up Turrell’s piece prior to me having the chance. Epic.  Tara so eloquently captured Turrell’s goal to create these contemplative arenas meant to induce awareness, contemplation, and reflection:

“Far away hidden in the forest of Cheekwood lies one of the most magical hideaways in the south. The iron gates lead you to a circular room with a black gravel circle on the ground - and above - a view to the heavens. Blue Pesher James Turrell is far more than just a permanent sculpture, it’s a place where one can stop to contemplate on the meaning of life. As you sit in a round room, looking above you see an illuminated circle sometimes blue sometimes white... then all of a sudden you will see a cloud or a bird pass by in the far distance.. that’s when it clicks - you’re looking at the sky. James Turrell’s work with light and space allows us to appreciate what is around us constantly in a way we have never really seen before. We see a small piece of sky as a work of art, yet we are surrounded by it every day. That’s the magic of James Turrell.”

For me, I always leave Blue Pesher feeling that you must learn to put the blinders on in order to see what’s there when the blinders are off. Magic.

 

 

James Turrell’s intention was for this piece to be viewed near sunrise.  While Cheekwood is generally closed during the wee hours of the sun’s initial approach to high noon, Cheekwood is partnering with OSHO Collective on Tuesday, November 13 and Thursday, November 15 to lead two 30-minute sessions of guided meditation within the sculpture at 7:00am.  Tickets to the event are available on Eventbrite.  

On Wednesday, November 14 from 7-9pm, Brian Jobe, Co-Director of Locate Arts and Seed Space will give a talk on James Turrell’s Blue Pesher.  This is a free event, but you can register early here on Eventbrite.

Tara Walters lives currently in Los Angeles where she is attending Art Center College of Design for her MFA.  You can still view her works in East Nashville at Red Arrow Gallery.

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