Painter Etel Adnan’s Career Didn’t Take off until Her Eighties—Now She’s an Inspiration to Young Artists
Ninety-three-year-old Lebanese artist Etel Adnan’s lovely, simple compositions argue for the persistence of peaceful landscapes—despite whatever violence pervades the daily news. For over five decades, she’s made small-scale paintings of mountains, skies, and water, all rendered in interlocking color blocks. A solid circle often adorns the top of her canvases, representing a sun that shines benevolently on the hills and valleys below. The creamy hues, which she typically applies with a palette knife, further contribute to a sense of lush harmony. The work is easy on the eyes and spirit.
Adnan turned to Mount Tamalpais, not far from San Francisco, for inspiration. The mountain—sometimes rendered jagged, at other times rounder—appears in many of her paintings throughout the decades. She’s still painting it today, from memory now, instead of observation. It’s no longer just out her window: She’s settled into an itinerant Paris-Beirut-California lifestyle with her partner, sculptor O’Hanlon and her husband gave Adnan her first solo show in 1961, at a gallery they’d established in Mill Valley, California. Exhibitions at small venues continued throughout the decade, mostly around the region. Mary Sabbatino, vice president and director of Galerie Lelong & Co. (one of Adnan’s New York galleries), describes the artist’s work from this period as “brushier,” though on the same small scale as her later work. Adnan was also making hand-woven tapestries, always expanding her practice into different media while keeping her themes and her colorful, abstract approach consistent.