When Anne Truitt died in 2004 at 83 years of age, she left a thoughtful legacy through her visual artwork and writings. Her meticulously painted sculptures and three published memoirs reflect her sensitivity to life: Her desire to preserve it, its precariousness and; death: the inevitable.
Her painted, stacked blocks stand 5 to 7 feet high. Their proportions naturally relate with the human body. Truitt said she wasn’t interested in a narrative and couldn’t solve the problem of time. In a documentary by filmmaker Jem Cohen she spoke about time as having the ability to simply go around a sculpture.*
Truitt’s human scaled columns that she felt embodied the possibility to repel time, are, none-the-less, still infused with time. Perceptions that accompany me as a viewer, feed into this. It is as if I said, “Do not think of an elephant.” So of course an elephant comes to mind. Truitt’s color is clean and almost translucent, a result of the conscientious layering involved with her process and I can’t help but think of the involvement of time. Her hand-treated surfaces are slick and polished. The impression is one of human perfection, something we want to reach but is unattainable, except perhaps in flashes of moments that tease. Bands of color fields coat the blocks on which they are painted with a deductive simplification that wrap these monuments horizontally or vertically, an act to protect what is beneath from the ravishes (or problems) of time. For me, the sculptures are an attempt to encase and preserve what is ultimately ephemeral.
This leads me to consider the work of Christo, where he physically wrapped objects with cloth and string, a ritual that references shrouding death and decay. An ending. I am blatantly pushed to consider what might be beneath the wrapping and conscious of this consideration. With Truitt such a reflection is more visceral. In monumental scale, Christo’s wrappings establish a sense of dislocation. In the more intimately sized objects, like his wrapped handcarts, I consider the breakdown of my own body due of the shared size relation and skewed or partial recognition of the object underneath. Where Truitt speaks of preserving timeless perfection, Christo speaks of that perfection having an ending.
The work of Jasper Johns combines Truitt’s columns and Christo’s wrapped configurations. It is through the process of layering wax, a time consuming application, that the encaustic surfaces of his paintings also reference the duration of time. Reading death into his Target with Four Faces (1985) is not a long shot (nor a pun intended.) The eyes and chins of the four faces, stacked horizontally, are covered suggesting there is more beneath the surface. Each figure is compartmentalized while the entire contents of the work are boxed in as if to be preserved and saved or buried in wax and casket. All is stopped, as if frozen in time. The iconic target that is not actual but a referential painted sign, becomes an imagined cloak and I can visualize it tucked into the edges, like a blanket, wrapping around the back of what we cannot see.
Robert Morris said that Jasper Johns took the background out of painting and isolated the thing. He went on to say that the wall became the background. This circles me back to Truitt, whose objects (or things) stand or hover in space where the surrounding wall is distant background. But not only the wall, also the human body (me and you), space and all moments of time pulse around Truitt’s sculptures protecting whatever is embodied within.
*Matthew Mark’s Gallery-
Jem Cohen's 20-minute documentary Anne Truitt: Working, which was shown at the Hirschhorn Museum's 2009 survey of Truitt's work, will appear on the DVD of Museum Hours, Cohen's award-winning feature film. Anne Truitt: Working consists of an interview with the artist and 16 mm footage made in and around her studio at Yaddo artist colony, as well as footage from her studio in Washington, D.C. Cohen says, “I was honored to know Anne Truitt, and doubly so when she allowed me to make a short record of her presence and thoughts. I felt as if she opened her hand and showed, in a profound but down-to-earth way, the compass by which she navigated