The volcano that cost James Turrell two marriages

Lifestyle

The volcano that cost James Turrell two marriages

After 40 years the Californian artist has almost finished his conversion of Roden Crater into an observatory

Chris Harvey

James Turrell, the celebrated light and space artist, beloved by Drake, Beyoncé and Kanye West, has been working on his masterpiece, Roden Crater, for more than 40 years. But at last there’s an end in sight.

Turrell bought the 400,000-year-old extinct volcano, in the magnificent Painted Desert of Northern Arizona, in 1977, when he was in his 30s, planning to turn the interior of the cone into a vast naked-eye observatory. At 76, he says it is five years from completion. “We’d like to open in 2026,” he tells me.

The crater has cost him “two marriages and a relationship”, he has said in the past, and there have been periods when it has lain untouched – the worst, he says, between 2008 and 2011, when, despite his artworld success, financial problems forced him to sell the plant that made concrete for the project. Did he ever despair? “No, it’s an unproductive emotion,” he says...

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