Born in Los Angeles, California in 1943, James Turrell graduated from Pomona College in Claremont, California in 1965. In 1966 he completed studies in Fine Arts at the University of California. He was given his first one-man show in 1967 at the Pasadena Art Museum and in the year that followed, he was asked to participate in the Los Angeles County Museum’s Art and Technology Program. Also in 1968, he was awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
In 1973 Turrell graduated from Claremont Graduate School with a Master of Fine Arts degree. He had his first international solo exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, after which he moved to Flagstaff, Arizona and began his magnus opus, the Roden Crater. In 1984 Turrell was one of the first of two artists to be awarded the Katherine T. and John D. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. He also received the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres in France in 1991 and the Friedrich Prize in Germany in 1992. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the Royal College of Art in London in 2003. In 2004 Turrell became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.