Icon: Etel Adnan
Lebanese artist Etel Adnan was a celebrated writer, poet, and public intellectual who spent much of her life displaced across cultures, languages, and nationalities.
Painting landscapes from memory, her vibrant works reflect the warm hues of California, where she lived for over 30 years. Tinged with longing, the artworks capture Adnan’s yearnings for the Lebanon of her youth and peace in the Levant.
Adnan's artistic focus revolved around two enduring subjects — a Californian mountain and the Mediterranean Sea — which led to an enthusiastic exploration of colour, texture, and abstraction.
Living in California in the late 1970s, Adnan drew inspiration from the view of Mount Tamalpais outside her window.
Critic Karen Rosenberg likened Mount Tamalpais to Cézanne's Mont Sainte-Victoire, describing it as a specific yet universal landmark that allowed Adnan to project memories of a different culture whilst also serving as a symbol of stability for the nomadic artist.
Adnan's landscapes were mostly presented on small canvases, intensifying their impact.
Marked by a strict two-dimensionality, the paintings showcase stark chromatic contrasts with nuanced variations. She meticulously arranged monochrome areas using a palette knife without overpainting or blurred borders, allowing the paint to glow and radiate. The rigorous juxtaposition of hues, with no repetition of a single tone within the same painting, indicates a deliberate staging between colours.
Though the paintings depict specific landscapes, their real subject matter is Adnan herself. The works are a tranquil counterpoint to her turbulent experiences, evoking happiness, beauty, and simplicity.
“Happiness is resistance.”
— Etel Adnan