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Art 104: In the Style of Paper

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Smita Sinonpat

Instructor: Eric Ford

Art 104: In the style of Paper

April 2nd, 2019

        Anne Truitt (1921 – 2004) was a major American sculptor of the mid-20th century. Growing up on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Truitt spent her teenage years in Ashville, North Carolina.  Although Truitt had a degree in psychology and worked briefly as a nurse in Boston, she left the field and started writing fiction before enrolling in courses at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Washington, D.C. She is well known for large-scale minimalist sculptures, which is wooden constructions fabricated in accordance with scale drawings that are painted multiple delicate layers of acrylic color characterized by subtle variations. The structural elements and subtlety of color deliver a visual sensation that makes the objects look like they actually have realistic shadows. The motivation behind this particular style is to create something that feels like reality to her. In other words, she desired to make a relationship between shape and color that feels to her like her own experiences. The process starts by weighing the structures to the ground, often hollow, in order to allow the wood to breathe in changing temperatures. After applying gesso or white paint used as a preparation for the next layers, she paints up to forty layers of acrylic paint by switching brushstrokes between horizontal and vertical directions and perfecting it with sandpaper in order to build up a surface with tangible depth. She then adds a platform under her sculpture and raises it enough off the ground that the sculptures appear to float on a thin line of shadow. The artist was a major figure of the minimalist movement. Although her identity as an artist has largely remained unrecognized, her work has been anticipatory for later minimalist artists like Donald Judd, Carl Andre, and Sol LeWitt. Truitt’s work lays out new ways of relating and perceiving by revealing the interactive motion of embodied relations and how material objects can help to ground the reality and hence human potentiality. She was honored posthumously by the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington in 2009 with a major retrospective.

        There is illusionism in Truitt’s artwork through her use of colors, size, and titles that deliver tension between the perceptions of the sculpture and the object itself. One of her strongest works, Whale’s Eye (1968), is a good example of how illusionism exits in Truitt’s work. The sculpture, in accordance with her well-known style of artwork, is column-like and made with wood. The upper section of the sculpture is painted in bright blue color like a cloudless sky, whereas the body part is painted in a deep ultramarine color or Klein International Blue. Despite the fact that observers would know that the sculpture is painted, the paint almost seems to exist on its own. With the help of the base under the sculpture that lifts the object up just above the ground, the nuance of color creates seemingly realistic shadows and makes it feel like the column is actually floating. In support of my thesis statement, Truitt once mentioned in her book, Daybook: The Journal of an Artist (1982), “Painted into color, this wooden structure is rendered virtually immaterial. The color is thus set free into space…”. However, its color is not the only feature that contributes to the illusionism of Truitt’s artwork. Whale’s Eye, for example, in its size has the bulkiness that suggests a large solid object such as whale. On the other hand, its blue color, in the hint of water in which the whale lives, works against the sculpture’s density and thus creates an additional degree of tension or illusion. Therefore, color, size, and title together result in tension between weightless, whale-like illusion, and the solid three-dimensionality of the sculpture itself.

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