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Anne Truitt Photo

Anne Truitt

American Sculptor and Painter

Born: March 16, 1921 - Baltimore, Maryland
Died: December 23, 2004 - Washington, D.C.
"As I work to understand my life, its scale seems to diminish, as a tree I gaze up into flattens when I walk up a mountain and look down on it. Humility is really more natural than pride, which seems to me always to involve a lie."
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Anne Truitt Signature
"This life, a gift of grace for an unknown reason, must be lived purely, because at death we return with its accruements to our source. Life is entrusted to us, does not belong to us, and has to be restored in honorable condition. We are responsible for this trust, and must live with this fact in mind."
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"The hallmark of a decision in line with one's inner development is a feeling of having laid down a burden and picked up a more natural responsibility."
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"Perhaps the human lesson is always submission. We have a choice: to rebel or to recognize our powerlessness while maintaining our faith."
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"By keeping on being what we most intimately are, we can continually redefine ourselves so that we become what we have not been able to be. If we live this way, we surprise ourselves."
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"I refused, and still refuse, the inflated definition of artists as special people with special prerogatives and special excuses."
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"I am, and I am going to be, the kind of person I have trained myself to be. In a way that almost amounts to just retribution, I am stuck with the results of all my choices."
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"Love...is the honoring of others in a way that grants them the grace of their own autonomy and allows mutual discovery."
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"Artists have no choice but to express their lives."
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"Balancing intuition against sensory information, and sensitivity to one's self against pragmatic knowledge of the world, is not a stance unique to artists. The specialness of artists is the degree to which these precarious balances are crucial backups for their real endeavor. Their essential effort is to catapult themselves wholly, without holding back one bit, into a course of action without having any idea where they will end up. They are like riders who gallop into the night, eagerly leaning on their horse's neck, peering into a blinding rain."
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"It is not true that only artists understand art, for there are in every generation some people who not only understand it but also enhance its reach by appreciation."
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Summary of Anne Truitt

In the wake of Abstract Expressionism during the Cold War, Anne Truitt created complex, subtly nuanced sculptures that belie their simplicity. Known for her hand-painted columnar sculptures, Truitt explored the realms of her emotional and psychological life with the most minimal of means. Interested in how we walk through and inhabit the physical world, Truitt's sculpture induces an embodied, and not simply an optical, response from the viewer.

While Truitt gained acclaim in the 1960s as one of the earliest Minimalists and was briefly championed by the art critic Clement Greenberg, she remained distant from the New York art scene and spent decades balancing her artistic practice with raising a family. Feeling apart from current artistic trends, Truitt's art and her process would be influential for younger artists interested in the poetics of form and material such as Roni Horn and Rachel Whiteread.

Accomplishments

  • Truitt's sculptures are resolutely abstract and seemingly non-narrative, but each is steeped in Truitt's own biography: her memories growing up, her time in Japan, and her home in Washington, D.C. The subtle juxtapositions of color and form create emotional resonances with her own memories of certain events and times.
  • Often cast as a Minimalist, Truitt, much like the painter Agnes Martin, had more affinities with the earlier movement of Abstract Expressionism than with her contemporaries. Her art was suffused with emotion, and she wished to engage the viewer on a bodily level in order to elicit the viewer's emotional response.
  • While Truitt's sculptures stylistically resemble work being done by Minimalist artists like Donald Judd and Carl Andre as well as Washington Color School artists such as Kenneth Noland and Gene Davis, Truitt's artistic intentions were often diametrically opposed to theirs. While many of the Minimalists had their works fabricated by others, Truitt constructed and painted all of her own sculptures. Her personal involvement as well as the personal meanings that imbue her work put her at odds with the more cerebral, conceptual, and anonymous art of the Minimalists. Additionally, her interest in the viewer's physical relation with the work of art contrasted with the Washington Color School's interest in pure opticality.

Biography of Anne Truitt

Anne Truitt Photo

Born Anne Dean in Baltimore, Anne Truitt grew up in the coastal town of Easton on the shores of Maryland. As a happy, sprightly child, Truitt and her two younger twin sisters flourished in an affluent household under her mother's maxim: "Children should be brought up like cabbages - with lots of sun and space and let alone to grow." Roaming around the local streets with a sense of wonder and discovery, Truitt later remembered, "[A]nd so it was with the little town of Easton...an orderly scattering of houses, mostly white clapboard, so small that even on my short legs I was able to encompass the town's dimensions."



Progression of Art

1961

First

Three slender, peaked white planks point upwards to the sky, joined together at the back by two horizontal bands and standing on a thin plinth. At first glance, the work resembles a section of suburban garden fence, but on closer examination the three posts reveal subtle variations from one another in height, width and point shape, giving them a fragile, almost human quality. The central pillar is taller than the two on either side, and the upper horizontal beam resembles outstretched arms holding them together into a tight group, perhaps a reference to the experience of Truitt and her younger twin sisters during their childhood.

As referenced in the work's title, this sculpture was the first Truitt made in a new, pared down abstract style. After a revelatory trip to New York City in 1961, Truitt made a dramatic change in her art practice. She recalled, "I saw Ad Reinhardt's black canvases...then I...saw the paintings of Barnett Newman. I looked at them, and from that point on I was home free. I had never realised you could do it in art. Have enough space. Enough color."

These early sculptures made allusions to her own experiences in the world, resembling the picket fences, tomb stones and clapboard houses in the coastal town of Easton where she grew up. This marriage between minimal geometry and personal experience came to characterise all of Truitt's work even as her sculptures became increasingly abstract, lending her practice an individuality that would prove hugely influential.

Acrylic on wood - Baltimore Museum of Art

1964

Sea Garden

An angular form, resembling a rocky outcrop in a barren landscape, spreads across the floor in earthy shades of green, beige, and navy. Truitt carefully choreographed the relationship between the sculpture's color and form to suggest balance, stillness, and the subtlest suggestion of movement, akin to the lull of lapping water.

Truitt made this sculpture after moving to Japan with her family. Although they only stayed for three years to follow her husband's work, Truitt found the experience unsettling, admitting she never felt grounded or at home amidst the unfamiliar surroundings. This disjointed feeling of unease was reflected in the drawings and sculptures she made during this time, which juxtapose sharp, jagged angles and irregular shapes. In the publication Anne Truitt in Japan art historian Anna Lovatt wrote, "[T]he temporal disjunctions of the Japanese works - the unexpected jolts and ruptures that confront anyone who circumvents them - speak at once to Tokyo's startling juxtapositions of old and new and the jarring sense of anachronism that Edward Said has identified with the condition of 'exile,' a word the artist herself used to describe her experiences of Japan."

During her time in Japan Truitt made a departure from wood, choosing instead to work with aluminium in which she discovered a lightness and flexibility that allowed for greater experimentation. Three years later, on returning to America, Truitt destroyed much of the work she made during this three year sojourn and returned to working with wood, yet as Lovatt points out, her largely negative experiences in Japan were part of a "process of discovery" which allowed her to experiment and fail, or as Truitt herself put it, "If I had not gone to Japan, I would not know anything. I would not know what is what."

Marine paint on aluminum - Private Collection

1968

A Wall for Apricots

This tall, elegant tower contains three bands of vivid color stacked on top of one another. The work is deceptively simple, with closer inspection revealing a delicate balance between colors and shapes that invokes order, harmony, and stillness. The rich, ochre yellow brings warmth into the adjoining green, while the white on top suggests the blinding light of summer sun. Truitt's column stands almost 6 feet tall, indicative of its human scale.

Truitt made A Wall for Apricots upon her return to the U.S. from Japan, and she has often spoken of the relief she felt on returning to Washington, to the familiar "latitude and longitude" of her home country. Truitt's color range expanded and became more vivid, which writer Ken Johnston described in the New York Times as "exquisitely nuanced, whether tending to eye strainingly dark combinations...to pale Impressionist pastels or to Pop-like candy bright hues." Johnston points out the multiple references Truitt collapses together into her columnar sculptures, including ancient steles or tombstones and science fiction monoliths. Her upright work also resembles the stance of the human body, yet she creates a sense of weightlessness with a recessed plinth, making it appearas if the work is hovering just above the floor. The sensitive, human quality of her sculptures set her apart from many of her Minimalist contemporaries and proved hugely influential on Post-minimalist artists such as Roni Horn, who combines poetic subject matter with geometric forms.

Acrylic on wood - Baltimore Museum of Art

1974

Way VII

This expansive canvas is a sea of umber red, while vertical bands suggest slim slivers of light shining through. Their varying widths and intensities suggest depth and space beyond the monochrome surface of the painting. Truitt is best known for her sculptures, prompting writer Lance Esplund to describe her as "a painter working in three dimensions," yet she also made countless drawings on paper and a number of paintings on canvas, exploring the same geometric abstraction and emotive color used in her sculptures.

In the early 1960s, she was profoundly influenced by American abstract painters including the Color Field paintings of Ad Reinhardt and Barnett Newman. Here one can see many formal similarities with Newman's famous "zip" paintings, with both artists exploring the ways a monochrome canvas can be intersected with thin vertical bands of color. Additionally, Truitt shared many ideas with Newman, including a fascination with the simplicity of ancient, geometric forms, which they felt had a greater connection to the raw human spirit, as well as an awareness of the verticality of the human body, and its inherent relationship to a work of art. But in contrast with Newman, Truitt was more concerned with the emotional, expressive properties embedded in color, not just the spiritual implications that most interested Newman, and importantly for Truitt, color and line held deeply resonant associations with her own memories and past experiences, particularly the unique light, land, and seascapes of her childhood.

Throughout the 1960s and '70s Truitt became a leading figure in the Washington Color School, whose work was defined by flat, solid areas of vibrant color, and influenced a new generation of artists, including Barbara Januszkiewicz and Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann.

Acrylic on canvas

1978

Breeze

Truitt painted a slim, columnar shape with delicate bands of white, pale blue, and a sliver of green, suggesting the light and air of the ocean and surrounding grasslands. The title of this work also alludes to landscape, hinting at gentle movement and energy. Many of Truitt's sculptures at this time were set on recessed bases so they seem to levitate off the floor, suggesting weightless color, creating a tension with the solidity of the sculpture's form.

Although the work has a Minimalist quality, Truitt was often at pains to point out the real world associations in her work, saying that her work was "totally referential. I've struggled all my life to get maximum meaning in the simplest possible form." Landscape was a recurring reference for Truitt, often hinted at through oblique relationships between light, color, shape, form, and poetic titles. Writer John Dorsey points out, "[I]f one could unwrap the color and put it flat on the wall, the verticals and horizontals of landscape would become even more obvious." Truitt grew up in the coastal town of Easton and her sculptures often made references to this place. In her published journal Daybook (1982) she wrote of her childhood home, "[T]he doors were kept open all through the house to catch a breeze."

Acrylic on wood

2003

Parva LXV

A warm red square sits on an elevated base like a floating block of pure color. In contrast with Truitt's earlier slender columns, which often suggested a breezy, airy quality, this sculpture has weight and density, suggesting an enduring sense of permanence. Truitt made this sculpture when she was 82, just a year before she died, and its solidity reveals her tenacity, strength, and determination to continue making art.

The shape of this work resembles a painting hung on the wall, yet it floats in space as a free-standing object, forming a solid block of what writer Ken Johnston called "pure, dematerialised color." The shape and scale of Truitt's sculptures often made reference to the human body, and here the red recalls the warmth and life of blood as the driving force that keeps us going, as well as suggesting the bloodlines that continue through family, which was a hugely important part of Truitt's life. She placed great significance on color as a potent carrier of emotion, memory, and experience, and here she distills her life experiences into a single monochromatic unity, encapsulating her ideas with a graceful and concise simplicity.

Acrylic on wood - col


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Content compiled and written by Rosie Lesso

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Valerie Hellstein

"Anne Truitt Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Rosie Lesso
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Valerie Hellstein
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First published on 11 Jun 2019. Updated and modified regularly
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