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b. 1925, Lebanon

Etel Adnan Biography

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. 

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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


Etel Adnan Featured Artworks

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Le soleil a vécu by Etel Adnan contemporary artwork
Etel AdnanLe soleil a vécu, 2020Etching
48.5 x 38 cm
Galerie Lelong & Co. New York Contact Gallery
Vertige by Etel Adnan contemporary artwork
Etel AdnanVertige, 2020Etching
38 x 45.5 cm
Galerie Lelong & Co. New York Contact Gallery
Autour des Lacs by Etel Adnan contemporary artwork
Etel AdnanAutour des Lacs, 2019Tapestry
128 x 178 cm
White Cube Contact Gallery
Marée Basse by Etel Adnan contemporary artwork
Etel AdnanMarée Basse, 1967–1973/2021Wool tapestry
200 x 160 cm
Galerie Lelong & Co. Paris Contact Gallery
Poids du Monde V by Etel Adnan contemporary artwork
Etel AdnanPoids du Monde V, 2016Gravure
48 x 38 cm
Meem Gallery Contact Gallery
Horizon 2 by Etel Adnan contemporary artwork
Etel AdnanHorizon 2, 2020Oil on canvas
33 x 41 cm
Lévy Gorvy Contact Gallery
Jardins 14 by Etel Adnan contemporary artwork
Etel AdnanJardins 14, 2018Oil on canvas
30 x 24 cm
Galerie Lelong & Co. Paris Contact Gallery
Untitled by Etel Adnan contemporary artwork
Etel AdnanUntitled, 201546 x 38 cm White Cube Contact Gallery

Etel Adnan Current & Recent Exhibitions

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Etel Adnan Represented By

White Cube contemporary art gallery in Mason's Yard, London, United Kingdom White Cube Hong Kong, London, New York, Aspen, Paris

Etel Adnan In Ocula Magazine

Etel Adnan In Related Press

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Etel Adnan, the Eternal Voyager, Captured in a New Biography Related Press Etel Adnan, the Eternal Voyager, Captured in a New Biography 6 March 2019, Hyperallergic

As we rewrite art history to recognize the contribution and impact of women from around the world, pointed attention has been dedicated to several bodies of work that reveal, beyond their formal singularity, radical modes of expression. One such artist is Etel Adnan, the 94-year-old Lebanese multimedia artist, writer, poet, and intellectual, whose...

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From Poetry to Chemistry to ‘a Shared Museum,’ Performances at FIAC Related Press From Poetry to Chemistry to ‘a Shared Museum,’ Performances at FIAC 17 October 2018, The New York Times

Not all of the work at FIAC, the Foire Internationale d'Art Contemporain (International Contemporary Art Fair), is in frames or on pedestals. Parades for FIAC, a performance festival now in its third year (although performances have been part of the fair for a decade now), is staging 17 productions, with a special emphasis this time on dance and...

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'The colours I use are the colours of California' - an interview with Etel Adnan Related Press 'The colours I use are the colours of California' - an interview with Etel Adnan 16 June 2018, Apollo Magazine

There’s something curiously familiar about visiting Etel Adnan’s apartment in Paris. Not that I’ve ever been there before. But in recent years it has become a sort of cult destination for art-world figures, mentioned and mythologised by the various curators and critics who go to meet her, as well as depicted in film-portraits of the artist. Her...

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Surface Work review – women abstract artists dazzle in historic show Related Press Surface Work review – women abstract artists dazzle in historic show 15 April 2018, The Guardian

There are certain shows that change one's sense of art. Surface Work is one of them. Spread across two sites, it is nothing less than an anthology of abstract painting spanning an entire century, from early constructivism to post-digital sampling, in which every work holds its own and every work is by a woman. This is a rare and historic event....

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