I’m obsessed with the subject of color, and in fact, I’m working on a little book called My Color Pilgrimage.
One thing that puzzled me was that despite my love for and fascination with color, I wasn’t attracted to the work of artists who restrict their use of color, or who work almost purely in color.
Perhaps paradoxically, for a long time, for me, these kinds of paintings caused color to fade out of importance. I was inclined to agree with Matisse, who wrote, “An avalanche of colour has no force.”
But my view of this use of color shifted when I read this passage from artist Anne Truitt’s Daybook from March 27, 1975. Her description made me see how my vision was too cramped, too literal; I needed to widen my eyes to see color itself.
Sometimes, we learn something, hear something, understand something, see something, and in a flash, with a bolt of lightning, everything changes. A difficult change can become easy, a whole life can be redirected. It’s rare, but it does happen. And this is an extraordinary account.
By way of background, Anne Truitt was a major American artist of the 20th century, who did many kinds of work but is best known for her large, vertical, wooden sculptures and for her use of color.
As a side note I will remark that it’s a bit annoying how often visual artists are excellent writers, too!
This slightly edited passage describes a change that happened in her life, when she was 40 years old.
The change itself was set off by a weekend trip to New York with my friend Mary Pinchot Meyer, in November 1961, almost one year to the day after Sam’s birth. We went up on Saturday and spent the afternoon looking at art. This was my first concentrated exposure since 1957, when I had moved to San Francisco, and I was astonished to note the freedom with which materials of various sorts were being used….
At the Guggenheim Museum…I saw my first Barnett Newman, a universe of blue paint by which I was immediately ravished. My whole self lifted into it. "Enough" was my radiant feeling—for once in my life enough space, enough color. It seemed to me that I had never before been free. Even running in a field had not given me the same airy beatitude. I would not have believed it possible had I not seen it with my own eyes. Such openness wiped out with one swoop all my puny ideas. I staggered out into the street, intoxicated with freedom, lifted into a realm I had not dreamed could be caught into existence. I was completely taken by surprise, the more so as I had only earlier that day been thinking how I felt like a plowed field, my children all born, my life laid out; I saw myself stretched like brown earth in furrows, open to the sky, well planted, my life as a human being complete…
Even three baths spaced through the night failed to still my mind, and at some time during these long hours I decided, hugging myself with determined delight, to make exactly what I wanted to make. The tip of balance from the physical to the conceptual in art had set me to thinking about my life in a whole new way. What did I know, I asked myself. What did I love? What was it that meant the very most to me inside my very own self? The fields and trees and fences and boards and lattices of my childhood rushed across my inner eye as if borne by a great, strong wind. I saw them all, detail and panorama, and my feeling for them welled up to sweep me into the knowledge that I could make them. I knew that that was exactly what I was going to do and how I was going to do it.
Anne Truitt, Daybook, 27 March 1975
What a moment of transformation! I love the fact that three baths couldn't calm her mind.