the life and work of the late Lebanese artist Etel Adnan – Middle East Monitor



The late Lebanese artist Etel Adnan once said: “We are used to living in a world of” either or or “, but we are complex beings, multiple beings, diverse beings.” All his life has demonstrated this maxim.

Etel Adnan passed away last month, and the Guggenheim Museum remembers with a solo show with the evocative title “Light’s New Measure”, which runs through January 10. The exhibition celebrates her as one of the most important artists of our time, while conveying her vision of holistic artistic expression to visitors.

In a world of separation that requires individuals to increasingly specialize in one area, Adnan was an example of how opposing efforts can ultimately meet. To begin with, the saying “make art or live” did not apply to her. She did not give up a busy life to cultivate a rich work. She had both and they fed each other.

She didn’t have to choose between expressing herself in words or pictures; she devoted herself to both with the same intensity and with exceptional results. The two forms even end up meeting in beautiful graphic poems, some of which are made in the form of leporellos, the folded horizontal paper that she first discovers in a Japanese boutique in San Francisco, where she once lived.

Adnan is a prime example for successive generations, in the sense that she did not feel compelled to choose political engagement over expressing gratitude for the beauty of the world through her art. Having been exposed to both in her long life, she felt that happiness and suffering were just two sides of the same coin.

Lebanese artist Etel Adnan
Catherine Panchout / Sygma via Getty Images

While in her paintings she only expressed the joy, faith and beauty of the natural world and the human spirit, her writing as a journalist and novelist was devoted to highlighting social injustice. She denounced the evils of the wars she experienced firsthand.

Life and art are one

Was his ability to reconcile seemingly opposing approaches the product of his multicultural upbringing? Born in Lebanon to a Greek mother and a Syrian father, Etel Adnan grew up speaking French, Arabic and Greek. As an adult, she lived for long periods in Lebanon, the United States and France.

She was not exposed to art as a child, because in the Lebanon of her youth, people did not hang pictures in their homes. “At the time, the aesthetic sense of the Islamic world was expressed either through architecture or through carpets,” she said in an interview when she recalled that she used to visit the market with his father, with the same sense of wonder and presence as that one. would operate for a museum visit. This interest in rugs has never left her; she later produced numerous pieces of abstract tapestry.

Perhaps due to the lack of exposure to painting in her childhood, she came to be strongly touched by classical paintings when she came face to face with them. She was 20 when she came into contact with art at the Louvre in Paris with a “beginner’s spirit”. This allowed him to fully absorb the power of the medium.

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In Paris, she studied philosophy at the Sorbonne, but it was not until she moved to San Francisco in 1958 – at the height of the poetic renaissance led by Ginsberg – that she began to paint while working as professor of philosophy. It was, she later said, a time when modern art was starting to be taken seriously in America, appearing in mass-circulation magazines like Time and News week in full color. Museums and galleries have started to welcome visitors from all walks of life. “Going to museums started to get fun,” she said.

Deeply in love with nature and recognizing human existence as part of it, Adnan painted landscapes without human figures. Her art conveys the warmth and connection with the natural universe of a Georgia O’Keefe, but orientates itself towards an even stronger abstraction.

The pure colors of her canvases are pressed straight from the tube in her characteristic painting method, sitting at her desk with her small canvases laid flat. His palette exalts Matisse’s keen joy of pure colors, while his brushstrokes are clear and confident.

Socio-political commitment

In his quest for the absolute and the eternal in art, the socio-political struggle has not escaped him. Back in Beirut, she publishes her novel Sitt Marie-Rose, based on the life of Marie Rose Boulos, a woman executed by a Christian militia in Beirut. It has been translated into at least ten languages ​​and had a great influence on Arabic literature, becoming a war classic.

What followed was one of his most recognized collections of poems titled The Arab Apocalypse. It was first published in French in 1980 and spoke of the dark and violent mood in his home country, Lebanon, during the time just before the civil war. To protest against France’s colonial rule in Algeria, she gave up writing in French and declared that she would start “painting in Arabic”.

Traveling regularly to Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, Syria and back to Lebanon throughout her life, she never ceased to deal with Middle Eastern politics in her writings, including the collection of testing. Cities and women (Letters to Fawwaz, 1993) and the collection of poetry In the heart of the heart of another country (2005).

His painting and his writing were in constant communication. She said her paintings were a “vertical translation” of her “horizontal” writing, and explained that “I write what I see, I paint what I am”, to symbolize her expression of the need for a change. exterior and interior transformation simultaneously.

Tables that help you live your daily life

In an interview, Adnan recalled that in his youth, the slogan was “live in the present”, a motto that has survived New Age culture and is now spreading in popular culture. “I have always lived in the present,” she said. “It’s only now that I’m older that I’m encouraged to rethink my past and reflect on life. I’m starting to feel a sense of urgency when it comes to my job, because I know my time on this earth is limited. “

The works presented in the Guggenheim exhibition are proof that the spirit of an artistic work can outlive the artist. His work expressed something greater than the individual, allowing the audience to immediately connect with something within him.

Etel Adnan’s life continues to inspire new generations of artists who do not want to fix themselves on a single mode of artistic expression, a single domain; a label ; but want to cross categories and borders. To the young artist, she recommends daring, daring and the ability to take risks.

Perhaps the most poignant definition of her work, and the place it can have in people’s lives, comes from her partner, artist Simone Fattal, who described her works as both exudating and energetic. : “They protect you like talismans. They help you live your everyday life. “

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