The sculptor/painter (and my fellow Baltimorean) Anne Truitt didn’t start making art until she was nearly 30. That was in 1949 when she left her work as a psychiatric nurse to attend art school. Whenever I encounter her signature monochromatic paintings and wood sculptures, they seem to float from the walls and floors, as if buoyed by light. Their luminosity is somehow different from the light that throbs from within a Mark Rothko painting, for instance, which has always struck me as anchored or somehow tethered.
In 1964, Truitt moved to Japan for three years, where she made 29 sculptures experimenting with new materials, and many works on paper, including bright colored paintings that are small in scale but emotionally big. Art historian Anna Lovatt writes about Truitt’s work from this period. She confirms the lasting impression Japan had on the artist, but the experience was hardly uncomplicated. In fact, Truitt found that her fundamental creative process was turned on its head in Japan requiring her to have to think through what would have flowed intuitively before; and ultimately she understood that her map of how the world fit together was forever transformed.
That sense of disruption is conveyed in her journal and ultimately in the work she would make (and unmake) from this time.
“I saw beneath me a wrinkled-prune land, purple in an apricot-violet mist of evening light. A shock of astonishment flashed through every cell of my body: an instinctive realization that nothing in my experience would help me now, but everything in my experience must be in readiness to learn.”
After Japan, Truitt returned to many of the forms she had been exploring previously. Only her vividly colored paintings survive; she destroyed all the sculptures in 1971, although there are photographs.
I very strongly identify with the topsy-turvy disorientation of Truitt’s Japan sojourn. Anyone who has opened themselves honestly to the patterns of another culture, visible and invisible, will sympathize as well. Still, I imagine Anne Truitt living in Tokyo, visiting department store galleries, eating in small neighborhood restaurants, admiring lacquer bowls and handmade dishes, and perhaps even traveling to see the pottery center at nearby Mashiko, where Hamada Shoji’s studio was located. If she bought a set of dishes or bowls, likely they would have come grouped as a set of three, five or seven, and that she would have thought about why that was so and learned of a different intuitive flow of basic elements, colors, countings, and processes.
Truitt’s work is the inspiration for this cinquain:
I stumble and think:
it gets harder
to lift my feet from the ground,
and harder still
to hold my flighty mind within this moment
“Lines of Thinking,” a monthly feature from College President Tom Manley. Each installment features a poem selected for its powers to transport us to some higher, lower or common ground, and, possibly in the process, provide fresh perspective and insight on the ground we occupy daily.
Find links to more editions of Lines of Thinking on the Office of the President page.