This week in celebrity exchanges saw the collision of two arts titans who couldn’t be more different, at least on the surface.

One is a 1984 MacArthur “genius grant” winner known for his land and installation artwork experimenting with light and space. Considered a visionary by many, 72-year-old James Turrell was once arrested for coaching young men to avoid the Vietnam draft and he wears his snow-white hair in a Kris Kringle/Charles Darwin-esque beard.

The other is Drake.

The famed rapper, ex-“Degrassi” star and certified Canadian Sad Boy made major waves Monday when he released the much-anticipated video for his single “Hotline Bling.”

While most of the attention around the video amounted to jabs at — and subsequent parody videos of — Drake’s dancing, the futuristic neon light aesthetic of the cavernous rooms playing host to his moves hasn’t gone unnoticed.


Keen observers were quick to point out the similarities between Turrell’s prolific work with light projections and the setting of “Hotline Bling.”

Indeed, Drake has nursed a long-abiding artist crush on Turrell, as evidenced by a scene in his Rolling Stone profile that shows him entranced by the septuagenarian’s 2014 retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

“I’ll f—k with Turrell. He was a big influence on the visuals for my last tour,” Drake says before entering a work called “Perceptual Cell.” When he comes out, he exclaims, “All my questions about life are answered!”

Though the music video’s director, Director X, told VICE that any connection to Turrell is accidental, the artist himself doesn’t seem to think so.


Turrell responded Wednesday through his lawyer’s blog in a post headlined “What a Time to Be Alive” (ostensibly a nod to Drake’s latest mixtape of the same name). The statement reads:


“While I am truly flattered to learn that Drake f—ks with me, I nevertheless wish to make clear that neither I nor any of my woes was involved in any way in the making of the ‘Hotline Bling’ video.”

Cue the shock and awe.

In a single sentence, this statement conveys a couple important revelations. First: Turrell has listened to — or is at least aware of one song from — Drake’s mixtape “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late.”

(For those who are less eclectically cultured, Turrell is referencing Drake’s oft-repeated lyric, “Runnin’ through the six with my woes.” “Woes,” according to Rap Genius, is either an abbreviation of “Woadie,” New Orleans slang for people living in the same geographic ward, or of “working on excellence.” It’s unclear which definition Turrell had in mind.)

Second: Imitation continues to be the sincerest form of flattery.

Alissa Walker writes in Gizmodo, “‘F—king’ must be the new ‘appropriating.’ Music videos are known for borrowing concepts from film and TV for sure but this is a little different — most of Turrell’s art isn’t even allowed to be photographed.”


The statement from the grandfather of light art leaves many questions hanging in the air. For instance, if the set of “Hotline Bling” was inspired by Turrell, could other aspects of the music video have the artist’s mark on them as well? The Post’s dance critic did point out that Drake’s dancing pays homage to a certain “old-guy-ish” sensibility.

And like the soulful rapper, Turrell is no stranger to lyricism. He once poeticized in an interview with The Guardian, “This wonderful elixir of light is the thing that actually connects the immaterial with the material — that connects the cosmic to the plain everyday existence that we try to live in.”

Maybe, just maybe, that’s what Drake is really getting at when he croons, “I know when that hotline bling/ That can only mean one thing.”