Etel Adnan: creative shapeshifter and follower of color

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Etel Adnan: Creative Shapeshifter, Acclaimed Author, and Color Adept

It takes a certain vision to honor the beauty of the world as powerfully as to probe its most violent facets. Over a seven-decade career, 96-year-old artist Etel Adnan has proven that to shape the next generation, art often has to change shape.

Through visual arts, poetry, journalism, prose, and plays, she has become a powerful voice in contemporary Arab-American culture, acclaimed war literature author, color follower, and art creator. abstract living elementary.

Adnan was born in Beirut in 1925 to a Greek mother and a Syrian father. In 1955, the artist left Paris – where she had studied philosophy – for America. There she attended UC Berkeley and Harvard, and taught philosophy of art and aesthetics at Dominican College in San Rafael, California.

Etel Adnan, Untitled, 2018 Oil on canvas. © the artist. Photograph: © White Cube (Theo Christelis)

Following a conscious decision to stop writing in French following the Algerian War, Adnan turned to abstract color field painting for its immediacy, power and ability to capture emotion. “Abstract art was the equivalent of poetic expression. I didn’t need to use words, but colors and lines. I didn’t need to belong to a language oriented culture but to an open form of expression, ”she said in 1996.

His work is constructed with bold blocks of color, often executed in oil paint – from tube to canvas – with a stiff stroke of a palette knife. As the artist succinctly said in 2018 during his solo exhibition at SFMoMA: “I like discovering new colors… it’s like finding a new instrument if you are a musician. Color inspires me. ‘

Etel Adnan Key signs, 2017. Leporello card stock with watercolor on paper. © the artist. Photograph: © White Cube (Ollie Hammick)

His visual art has also extended to drawing, cinema, ceramics and tapestry; his influences are just as extensive. In the 1970s, Mount Tamalpais in California became her muse and the subject to which she devoted many paintings and poems. Adnan later discovered Japanese leporellos, accordion-folded sketchbooks in which she could mix the verbal and the visual. On October 8, 2021, his vast career will be celebrated in a solo exhibition at the Guggenheim in New York, “Etel Adnan: Light’s New Measure”.

Adnan has never had an exclusive relationship with a discipline, a place, a language or a tradition. But his nomadic existence and his fluid practice only cemented his position as an artist of the world. §

Etel Adnan Morning Mist Tapestry 2019. © the artist. Photograph: © White Cube (Ollie Hammick)


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