Etel Adnan (1925-2021) remembered

November 19, 2021

The great Etel Adnan, a Lebanese-American author, poet, and artist, died this week in Paris at the age 96. She is survived by her longtime partner, artist Simone Fattal.

Throughout her six-decade career as an artist, Adnan has created a body of work focused on the relationship of forms in space, her signature paintings, made by juxtaposing areas of vibrant or pastel colours seem to reflect landscapes at certain times of day or seasons in the year but are in themselves intrinsicaly abstract and geometric but most importantly poetic. Her accordion-like works on paper fold out as vivid combinations of drawings, text, and colour. She often worked by smearing paint with a palette knife, applying colours directly from the paint tube.

Adnan was born in 1925 in Beirut (under French administration after World War I) to a Syrian father and a Greek mother. She grew up in Lebanon before moving to Paris to study philosophy at the Sorbonne, followed by graduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard University.

She returned to Lebanon in 1972, where she worked as an editor for two daily newspapers and met the Damascus-born artist Simone Fattal, with whom she fled the country to Paris when civil war broke out in 1975.

While she worked most of her life as a writer, most famously the novel Sitt Marie Rose in 1977, Adnan shifted her focus to painting amid growing discomfort with the political implications of writing in the French language during the Algerian war of independence.

Though she began to paint in her early 30s, her breakthrough moment in the European art world came in her late 80s when she was included in Documenta 13 in Kassel, curated by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev in 2012.

Since then her value as an artist has been understood and she has held a number of major exhibitions in venues across the globe. She is currently the subject of a survey, Light’s New Measure, on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. In May 2022, her first retrospective in the Netherlands will open at the Van Gogh Museum.

Keep up to date with My Art Guides
Sign up to our newsletter and stay in the know with all worldwide contemporary art events