Truitt, Anne (1921—)

views updated

Truitt, Anne (1921—)

American sculptor, painter, and writer. Born Anne Dean on March 16, 1921, in Baltimore, Maryland; daughter of Duncan Witt Dean and Louisa Folsom (Williams) Dean; Bryn Mawr College, B.A., 1943; studied art at Institute of Contemporary Art, 1948–50, and with Alexander Giampetro, Kenneth Noland, and Octavo Medillin; married James McConnell Truitt (a journalist), on September 19, 1947; children: Alexandra; Mary; Samuel.

Selected works:

(sculptures) Autumn Dryad and Spring Snow; (published journals) Daybook (1982) and Turn (1986).

A sculptor and painter of the minimalist school, Anne Truitt is perhaps better known within the art community than by the public at large. Despite her relatively low profile with the public, she has been a potent force in American art through several decades, helping to shape the modern era of abstract art. Art critic Tom Weisser, reviewing one of Truitt's shows for ARTnews, wrote that her trademark—"mostly monochromatic, rectangular pillars of color"—captures the attention of the viewer "with such esthetic economy that you edge closer in hopes of figuring out how and why this might be." Truitt's work has been shown at the Baltimore Museum of Art and New York City's Whitney Museum of American Art, among others.

She was born Anne Dean in 1921, the daughter of Duncan Witt Dean and Louisa Williams Dean , members of an affluent family in Baltimore, Maryland. After attending Baltimore schools, she enrolled at Bryn Mawr College in suburban Philadelphia. Graduating from Bryn Mawr in 1943 with a degree in psychology, Truitt moved to Boston, where she was involved for a time with psychological research at Massachusetts General Hospital. In 1945, she took an evening class in sculpture, which ignited what was to be a lifelong love of the arts.

On September 16, 1947, she married James McConnell Truitt, a journalist whose job frequently took him out of the country. For the next couple of decades, she worked on her art—both sculpture and painting—while the family shuttled around the United States and Japan. At the same time, she raised the couple's three children, Alexandra, Mary, and Samuel. During the course of her family's travels, Truitt managed to carve out enough time to study with teachers Alexander Giampetro and Kenneth Noland of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Washington, D.C., and Octavo Medillin at the Dallas Museum School.

Truitt's sculpture and paintings masquerading as sculpture were in the advance guard of the literalist-minimalist art movement that took a firm hold in the 1960s. Proponents of the movement rejected the use of all illusion, preferring to work instead with real forms and space. Typical of this movement were Andy Warhol's Brillo boxes and Jasper Johns' full-canvas painting of a flag. Some of the more notable Truitt creations from this literalist period were her painted boxes. The artist's boxes were neither representations nor abstractions of something else but instead were the thing itself. Truitt's boxes were among the first artworks from this period to be described by critics as "presences," objects that have the character of real entities. Another example of Truitt's art from this period is the sculpture Autumn Dryad. The sculpture at first glance appears to be little more than a wooden column to which multiple coats of paint have been applied. Art critic Peter Plagens, assessing the piece in a Newsweek article, observed that Truitt's unrelenting applications of paint to the column had the effect of making the wood disappear until "the sculpture looks like it's solid color, like butter is yellow all the way through." Although her painted wooden columns received at best a lukewarm reception when first shown, Plagens, for one, believes the work will stand the test of time: Truitt "doesn't whittle down material excess and then call a halt just before the sculpture disappears. She builds up from an emotion until she's made her poetic point, and then lets her objects stand there and sing. For those who choose to listen, it's more than enough."

Although Truitt's work is clearly linked with the minimalist school, she is more precisely a proponent of the Washington, D.C., art movement known as "Color Field." Writing in Art in America in 1991, Brooks Adams observed that Truitt's art suggests "many exhilarating alternatives to the macho canon of Minimalism." He further suggested that it belittles the full body of her work to consign Truitt to a single category of art. "What to do, for instance," Adams wrote, "with the fact that Truitt lived and worked from 1964 to '67 with her journalist husband in Japan (where she made aluminum pieces that have mostly been destroyed), or with the fact that she herself is a distinguished writer, having published two volumes of her journals?… In a sense, Truitt can write her own history; in another sense, her work subtly wrinkles the linear progress of art history."

It was in the nation's capital in the early 1960s that Truitt's distinctive artistic style matured. During a 1961 visit to New York City's Guggenheim Museum, the paintings of Barnett Newman and Ad Reinhardt inspired in Truitt a vision of color, space, and pure, uncluttered geometric form. Upon her return to Washington, she ordered the fabrication of tall vertical boxes, some as tall as 13 feet, made to her specifications. These she painted with striking bands of color. Critic Clement Greenberg was brought to see Truitt's painted minimalist boxes by Kenneth Noland, one of her former teachers. So impressed was Greenberg that he later wrote an article in which he suggested that the artist's boxes had changed the direction of American sculpture. He further praised her work's power to "move and affect." Truitt herself sees her trademark boxes as "three-dimensional paintings." To her, the boxes are metaphorical icons, each of which conveys a different mood. Analyzing her sculpture Spring Snow, she observed: "Icy green falls from the top of the sculpture through the tender air of early spring onto the warming earth below, which flattens itself to receive it."

In 1963, Truitt had her first one-woman show at the Andre Emmerich Gallery in New York City. She received a fellowship from the Guggenheim Museum in 1971 and had solo shows at New York's Whitney Museum in 1973 and at the Corcoran in Washington in 1974. Her work was also featured in the 1976 Whitney Bicentennial exhibition "200 Years of American Sculpture."

Writing in her journal (published as Turn) of the voyage of self-discovery that led to her own very distinctive brand of sculpture, Truitt recalled fondly a garden from her childhood. "The garden was bisected by a brick path. I noticed the pattern of its rectangles and then saw that they were repeated in the brick walls of the houses of Easton; their verticals and horizontals were also to be found in clapboard walls, in fences, and in lattices. In my passion (no other word will do for the ardor I felt) for something to love, I came to love these proportions—and years later, in 1961, when I was 40 years old, this love welled up in me and united with my training in sculpture to initiate and propel the work that has occupied me ever since."


Art in America. October 1991.

ARTnews. May 1992.

Newsmakers 1993. Issue 1. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1993.

Newsweek. March 30, 1992.

Rubinstein, Charlotte Streifer. American Women Artists. Boston, MA: G.K. Hall, 1982.

Don Amerman , freelance writer, Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania

About this article

Truitt, Anne (1921—)

Updated About content Print Article Share Article