anything but reductive

I have never seen any of Truitt’s sculptures other than in photograps, she came to me through her writing. A mature woman’s literary reflections on motherhood and art, such a rare story to be told, was what initially got me interested. I find her work, seen from a very long distance, really beautiful, but believe the greatness in her sculptures lay in a subtle play of color-tone, in details one actually have to view on site to get a grip on.

Her journals have many readers, but for some, like the critic Peter Plagens, Anne Truitt was first and foremost an artist. In a review of her exhibition A Life in Art, at Baltimore Museum of Art in 1992, he writes:

Anne Truitt is an artist of the old school. That she was born into genteel circumstance in Baltimore in 1921 and graduated from Bryn Mawr during World War II are only indirectly connected. Yes, Truitt is a grandmother who lives and works not in Soho but in Washington, D.C., reads the classics, and is given to saying things like “I have a friend in Horace.” (“I like to smoke when I talk,” is about as downtown as she gets.) Of course she writes well, having published two critically praised memoirs, “Daybook” (1982) and “Turn” (1986). But what really marks her as an orphan of the current cacophonous scene is her beautiful sculpture.

Anne-Truitt-Threshold-Installation-view-via-Matthew-Marks-21He continues …

Truitt’s remarkably consistent sculpture first surfaced in New York in a gallery solo show in February 1963. The exhibition was badly (in both senses of the word) reviewed by Donald Judd (who showed his first minimalist work 10 months later). Truitt has been underrated ever since. Perhaps it has to do with her use of romantic, nonprimary colors on the kind of basic geometric forms other sculptors prefer to render in black or white or naked steel. Maybe it’s her work’s inescapable allusions (to a place, a season, a time of day) that cause theorybound critics to see it as too much heart and not enough head.

The rebuttal that this exhibition gracefully offers is that Truitt’s art is anything but reductive. She 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.

maximum meaning in the simplest possible form

 Anne Truitt:

I have never allowed myself, in my own hearing, to be called a minimalist. Because minimal art is characterized by nonreferentiality. And that’s not what I am characterized by. [My work] is totally referential. I’ve struggled all my life to get maximum meaning in the simplest possible form.


Anne Truitt: Heading South, 1988 , Acrylic on canvas

Anne Truitt, in her own words:

Installation viewATmain10

WOMANHOOD: On how to balance art and the demands of daily life

To be honest – I feel I have almost been absorbed by Anne Truitt (1921–2004) this summer. It has been a uniquely positive experience. I have read her three journals with great interest and attention, and have already started to reread them. These texts speak to me personally, as if I was talking to a wise friend, a foremother.

Anne Truitt’s first book, Daybook, is based on a journal, which she kept for seven years, recalling her childhood on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and her career transition from psychology to art. But most of all it is a meditation on how to combine a creative career (a calling) with family life, especially with being a mother. Divorcing her husband after 22 years of marriage also makes the question of economical endurance very acute. She made no compromises in her work, even if the reception of it at times was rather harsh.

I’ve struggled all my life to get maximum meaning in the simplest possible form. That’s what I’ve spent my life doing, and it’s never been understood.

As most artist, she would not agree to representing a definitive group or direction within art. Still her friend, the influential art critic Clement Greenberg, wrote: “If any one artist started or anticipated Minimal Art, it was she.” Truitt resisted the connection because her work was painstakingly made by her own hand rather than through the industrial processes that are the hallmark of minimalism.

Anne Truitt: 10 Sept ‘87 (1987), Acrylic on paper © Estate of Anne Truitt

In young adulthood Truitt went from psychology to art because, in her words, “the clearest beacons of aspiration that I had in my own life, I found in the work of artists — writers as well as sculptors and painters.”

When I swept wide brushes over large areas, I felt profoundly attuned to both structure and paint, as if I were doing what I had been born to do.

Her art might be challenging, due to a fine and highly developed sense of abstraction, but her writing is very simple, very easy to understand – even if the depth of what she says might shake the grounds on which you have founded your own life.

First published in 1982, Daybook was followed by two more journals; Turn (first published in 1986) and Prospect (first published in 1996), all published after Truitt had turned 60. The second and third book continues the artist’s reflections on her work and surroundings as she enters new stages of life, further exploring her views on womanhood, aging and art.


As already mentioned, I’m deeply captivated by Truitt’s writing – BE WARNED: my thoughts will continue to spill out  …

SHORT BIOGRAPHY: Anne Truitt was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1921 and spent much of her youth on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. She obtained a BA in psychology from Bryn Mawr College and began art training first at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Washington, DC, and later at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts when her husband was transferred to Texas. Most closely aligned with Minimalism and the Washington, D.C.-based Color Field painters, the artist is considered an important figure of American abstraction. Truitt’s first solo exhibition was held in 1963 at the André Emmerich Gallery in New York. Truitt received numerous honors throughout her career—including fellowships from both the Guggenheim Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts—and taught at the University of Maryland from 1975–1991. She also wrote extensively on her art-making practice and published three books—Daybook (1982), Turn (1987), and Prospect (1996). Truitt died in December 2004 in Washington, DC.


Henri Matisse, Woman Before an Aquarium

Yesterday I read a very fine review by Richard Gilbert, called: Hampl’s ‘Blue Arabesque’. A memoir of leisure, looking, and artistic expression.

This is how Hampl starts:


It’s a marvelous description of how the narrator gets captured by a work of art, almost against her own will. For me, now working seriously with my own ekphrasis-project, Hampl’s experience is tremendously exiting. She is in this first glimpse experiencing art not in a cognitive analytical mode, but as a sensual meeting.

I think contemporary art-writing has very little room for these kinds of experiences, being much too occupied by formal philosophy, it almost seems to forget that art is first and foremost a sensuous experience. And maybe that’s why poets are the best art-writers?



: an ornament or style that employs flower, foliage, or fruit and sometimes animal and figural outlines to produce an intricate pattern of interlaced lines
: a posture (as in ballet) in which the body is bent forward from the hip on one leg with one arm extended forward and the other arm and leg backward
: an elaborate or intricate pattern


Ekphrasis offers an alternative to the claustrophobic lyric “I” at a time when confessional modes are threadbare.

Ekphrasis, as one mode available to poets, offers the option of a formalism that is anti-confessional and yet grounded in tactility and sensory immediacy. An ekphrastic poem may speak of selfhood and identity and embodiment, but not with a lyric subjectivity that presumes a stable interiority, because it is, by definition, a projection.

B K Fischer

se also: St. Rage’s Vault by B.K. Fischer reviewed by Ann E. Michael in Poets’ Quarterly