Etel Adnan was a Lebanese-American artist and poet known for her fiercely political and personal poetry, novels, and paintings. Adan drew on her experience of a world that has drastically changed several times over her life, allowing for a complex, engaging merging and traversal of cultures.Read More
Born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon, Etel Adnan moved to America in 1955 to study philosophy at the University of California, Berkley, and Harvard. In 1958, she began teaching philosophy at Dominican College of San Rafael, California; it was not until a year later that, prompted by the head of the department, Adnan began to paint. The shift was also partly inspired by her decision to cease writing in French as a means of showing her solidarity with the Algerian war of independence.
Landscape is an important marker in Adnan's work, intrinsically linked to her travels and homes in different parts of the world. The earth, sea, light and shadows of Beirut, France, California are refined and distilled down into geometric shapes. Shaped loosely with a palette knife on intimate canvases, her paintings create vibrant fields of colour that emanate both an intense energy and a sense of tranquillity.
While her prose is visceral, highly politicised and reflective of the chaotic, what Adnan's paintings reveal is her spiritual engagement with her environment, realising a much more sensory experience and honest, inherently personal appreciation for the world. As she stated in a 2012 article in The Paris Review, her works are purposefully sparse and portray a calming disposition. They are a reflection of '...the happiness to just be'.
However, perhaps it is this relationship between her writing and her art that gives the paintings their additional depth. By knowing of the confronting, brutal nature of her writing, one imbues Adnan's serene paintings with these stark realities. But they are not simply peaceful pictures of escapism; rather they highlight how Adnan sees beauty and love in a world full of turmoil.
Although Etel Adnan had been exhibiting internationally since 1961, her artworks came to prominence only later in her life, when they appeared in dOCUMENTA (13) in 2012.
More recent solo exhibitions of Etel Adnan's work include Etel Adnan: Light's New Measure, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2021); Impossible Homecoming, Pera Musuem, Istanbul (2021); Seasons, Galerie Lelong & Co. New York (2020); Etel Adnan: Each day is a whole world, Aspen Art Museum, Colorado (2019); Etel Adnan: New Work, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2018); The Weight of the World, Serpentine Gallery, London (2016); White Cube, Hong Kong (2015); Galerie Sfeir-Semler, Beirut (2013).
Selected group exhibitions include Converging Horizons, Waddington Custot, London (2021); Hiding in Plain Sight, Pace Gallery, New York (2021); A yellow sun with anger, Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Hamburg (2020); An Instant Before the World, Rabat Biennale, Morocco (2019); Painting the Night, Centre Pompidou-Metz, France (2018); Surface Work, Victoria Miro, London (2018);Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction, Museum of Modern Art, New York (2017); SALTWATER: A Theory of Thought Forms, 14th Istanbul Biennial (2015); Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2014).
Etel Adnan's website can be found here.
Ocula | 2021
Adnan's art career took off in her late 80s after she participated in Documenta 13.
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