Like most people, my first inclination upon being faced with the work of the late Anne Truitt was to label it Minimalist, a perspective that tends to obfuscate her subtle insight into the natural, the spiritual, and the psychological. While her sculptures, paintings, and drawings, dating back to the early 1960s, address the purest elements of art–line, color, and balance–she was unconcerned with the industrial fabrication inherent in the standard modes of the Minimalist movement.
The life-size monolithic structures for which Truitt is best known are not flawless volumes markedly void of the human hand ala John McCracken or Sol LeWitt, but solid, impenetrable bodies of wood. These squared columns, which range from five to eight feet high, are covered in layer upon layer of juicy paint. Though the surface is sanded between each coat, the varying directions of Truitt’s brushstrokes are still faintly detected. As the paint’s pigment slyly changes with each application, dense, and often vibrant, color is steadily, and lovingly, produced.
What most separates Truitt’s oeuvre from that of the Minimalists is her proclivity for visual disruptions. At once polished and austere, her work, though calm on the surface, always suggests a certain level of agitation and unease. The lines in her drawings are just shy of being perfectly straight and the blacks in her paintings never reach the Richard Serra-like intensity, as greens, blues, and purples can’t help but shine through. Resting atop miniature unseen pedestals, her vertical plinths in shades of white, pink, red, blue, and black appear to hover an inch or so off the ground, suggesting an otherworldly environment culled straight from the imagination of Stanley Kubrick.
While the commanding scale of her three-dimensional works noticeably intimates the human form (in height and width), Truitt’s drawings hint at the psychological nuances of human memory. The most absorbing of these–black uneven rectangles calling to mind both imposing buildings and vast landscapes, and delicate pencil drawings of houses and white picket fences–can be seen in “Anne Truitt: Drawings,” an exhibition of works on paper currently at Matthew Marks Gallery.
28 Dec ’62, 17 Nov ’62, and Summer ’88 No. 6, titled, like so much of Truitt’s work, for the dates of their completion, are dark washes of black acrylic on paper. Each work is a large rectangle of varying density. The slanted and often jagged borders of the mass offer up sense memories of silhouetted landscapes from evening walks, and the stark shadows cast from buildings on sun-drenched afternoons. Like shadows, the blacks themselves aren’t entirely black, but emanate with dim traces of red, blue, and purple–an effect that arouses a false, though not unwelcome, sense of depth within these two-dimensional spaces.
Truitt’s most visually literal works are a series of acrylic and graphite drawings depicting the fences, ridgepoles, and wood-planked walls of her childhood home. Like the American dream of suburban domesticity, these small illustrations are clean, organized, and unobtrusive. In fact, the lines are so thin and so lightly drawn that they would be entirely missed if we were not face to face with them. The white acrylic stays dutifully within the confines of the uneven graphite, while, at the same time, constantly flirting with the notion of disappearing into the paper altogether. It is the visual surprises in Truitt’s work, however understated they may be, that release the artist not only from the limitations of Minimalism, but from the sphere of our expectations as well.
Images: Anne Truitt, 5 Nov '62, 1962, Acrylic on paper, 22 x 30 inches, Courtesy of the artist & Matthew Marks Gallery; Anne Truitt, Untitled, 1966, Acrylic and graphite on paper, 15 3/8 x 13 3/4 inches, Courtesy of the artist & Matthew Marks Gallery.