Anne Truitt, Sculptor of Minimalist Form and Color

Anne Truitt's work.

 Matthew Marks Gallery 

Anne Truitt was an American artist and writer, known for her work as a minimalist sculptor and, to a lesser extent, painter. She is perhaps most widely regarded for Daybook, a volume of the artist’s diaries, reflecting on the life of an artist and mother.

Fast Facts: Anne Truitt

  • Full Name: Anne Dean Truitt
  • Occupation: Artist and writer
  • Born: March 16, 1921 in Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  • Died: December 23, 2004 in Washington, DC, USA
  • Key Accomplishments: Early contributions to minimalist sculpture and the publication of Daybook, which reflected on her life as both artist and mother.


Early Life

Anne Truitt was born Anne Dean in Baltimore in 1921 and grew up in the town of Easton on the Eastern shore of Maryland. The stark coastal style—rectangles of colored doors against white clapboard facades—influenced her later work as a minimalist. Her family life was comfortable, as her parents were well-to-do (her mother came from a family of Boston ship owners). She she lived happily and freely as a child, though she was not unaffected by the poverty of which she caught glimpses in her town. Later in life, she would inherit from her family a modest sum of money from her family, which financed her art practice—though not so much as to keep finances from being a constant worry for the artist.

Truitt’s mother, to whom she was very close, died while Truitt was still in her twenties. Her father suffered from alcoholism, and though she pitied him, she wrote that she “decided” to love him despite his faults. This strength of will is characteristic of the artist and is seen in her staunch determination to continue in her work, even at times when her money dwindled and her pieces did not sell.

After her first year at Bryn Mawr College, Truitt came down with a case of appendicitis, which her doctors handled poorly. The result, Truitt was told, was infertility. Though this prognosis ultimately proved to be false, and Truitt was able to have three children later in life, she attributes her career as an artist to this temporary "sterility," largely because her focus was on her art at the time in her life when most women were expected to raise children.

Early Career in Medicine

After returning to Bryn Mawr to finish her undergraduate degree, Truitt decided to begin a career in psychiatric medicine. She felt a duty to help those who struggled in their lives. Though she was admitted to Yale to begin a Master’s in psychology, she turned down her scholarship and instead began work as a researcher at the Massachusetts General Hospital.

Already successful by the age of twenty-four, Truitt had a revelation one afternoon and immediately quit her position. She turned her back on a career in medicine, recounting later that something within her knew she had to be an artist.

An Artist's Calling

Anne married James Truitt, a journalist, in 1948. The two traveled often, following James' work. While living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Truitt began to take art classes, and excelled in sculpture. When the couple moved to Washington, D.C., Truitt continued her art practice by enrolling in classes at the Institute of Contemporary Art.

On a trip to New York in 1961 with her good friend Mary Meyer, Truitt visited the “American Abstractionists and Imagists” show at the Guggenheim. The experience would ultimately change her career. As she was rounding one of the museum’s famed curved ramps, she came upon a Barnett Newman “zip” painting and was stunned by its size. “I had never realized you could do that in art. Have enough space. Enough color," she later wrote. The visit to New York marked a change in her practice, as she transitioned into sculpture which relied on pared-down painted wooden surfaces to convey their subtle impact.

The family moved to Japan in 1964, where they stayed for 3 years. Truitt never felt comfortable in Japan, and ended up destroying all her work from this period.

Anne Truitt's column sculptures.  annetruitt.org

The Truitts divorced in 1969. After the divorce, Truitt lived in Washington, D.C. for the remainder of her life. Her separation from the art world of New York perhaps accounts for her lack of critical acclaim compared to her minimalist contemporaries, but that is not to say she existed outside of New York completely. She befriended artist Kenneth Noland and later took over his studio near Dupont Circle when he moved to New York. Through Noland, Truitt was introduced to André Emmerich, Noland’s New York gallerist, who eventually became Truitt’s gallerist.

Work

Truitt is known for her stark minimalist sculptures set directly on the floor of the gallery space, which mimic in verticality and proportion the shape of a human body. Unlike many of her fellow minimalist artists like Walter de Maria and Robert Morris, she did not shy away from color, but in fact made it the central point of interest in her work. The subtlety of color is applied precisely to the sculptures, often painstakingly and in as many as forty layers.

Truitt was also notable in her studio practice, as she sanded, prepped, and painted each of her works without the help of a studio assistant. The structures themselves she sent out to a lumber yard close to her home to be made to her specifications.

Daybook and Diaries

Following retrospectives at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 1973 and the Corcoran Museum of Art in Washington, D.C. in 1974, Truitt began to write a diary, seeking to make sense of the increased publicity her previously quietly shown art began to receive. How was she to understand herself as an artist now that her work was consumed and criticized by so many eyes other than her own? The result was Daybook, later published in 1982, which begins as an exploration of this newfound critical regard for her work, but ends up being an exploration of an artist’s day-to-day, as she struggles to find the money to continue her practice, all the while supporting her children.

Due to Daybook’s critical success, Truitt would publish two more volumes of diaries. The language of the diaries is often poetic with frequent forays into Truitt’s past. Though she gave up a career in psychology, it is clearly still present in her thinking, as her analysis of her life and career relies heavily on the interpretation of her psychological motivations and the impact of her youth on her personality.

Legacy

Anne Truitt died in Washington, D.C. in 2004 at the age of 83. She was honored posthumously by the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington in 2009 with a major retrospective. Her estate is managed by her daughter Alexandra Truitt, and her work is represented by Matthew Marks Gallery in New York City.

Sources

  • Munro, E. (2000). Originals: American Women Artists. New York: Da Capo Press.
  • Truitt, A. (1982). Daybook. New York, Scribner.