Etel Adnan is living proof that age is simply a number, as the Beirut-born American artist and poet is still prolific, producing fiercely political and personal poetry, novels and paintings for over seven decades.Read More
A woman who can speak five languages and who has effortlessly moved between the disciplines of writing and painting, Etel Adnan draws on her experience of a world that has drastically changed several times over her life, as well as on her somewhat nomadic existence, moving from Lebanon to France and eventually to California, allowing for a complex, engaging merging and traversal of cultures.
Produced since the early 1960’s, Etel Adnan’s paintings showcase a different angle of her understanding of the world around her. Her brightly coloured landscapes are shaped loosely and emotionally with a palette knife on intimate canvases, creating 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.
This theme of landscape is an important marker in Adnan’s work, as it is intrinsically linked to her travels and homes in different parts of the world. The earth, sea, light and shadows of Beirut, France, and her current home in Sausalito, California are refined and distilled down. Indeed, Mount Tamalpais, visible from her California home, became a geographical focal point, much like Cezanne’s relationship with Mont Sainte-Victorie. The impasto application of oil paints and the geometric build of the landscape represent a personal journey, laden with stories, emotions, and experiences.
Although Etel Adnan has had a distinguished and well-travelled career, her art has only come to prominence in her later years. Moving to America in the 1950s, she studied at the University of California and at Harvard and subsequently taught philosophy at the Dominican University of California. Around 1959, she began painting and drawing, partly inspired by her decision to cease writing her prose in French in protest to the treatment of local peoples of colonial areas of North Africa by France.
Since 1961, she has exhibited worldwide, particularly her native Lebanon and in America and France, with Galerie Sfeir-Semler in Beirut, Lebanon, 2010; Callicoon Fine Arts, New York, 2012 and 2014; The Wattis Institute, San Francisco, California, 2013; White Cube, London, England, 2014; Galerie Lelong, New York, 2015; and at the Serpentine Galleries in London, England, 2016. She has also participated in a number of group exhibitions, including dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel, Germany in 2012; the Whitney Biennial in New York, 2014; and the Sharjah Biennial 12, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, 2014.
Etel Adnan lives and works in Paris, France and Sausalito, California, U.S.A.
Biography by Ocula | 2016
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