ETEL ADNAN (1925-2021)
ETEL ADNAN (1925-2021)
ETEL ADNAN (1925-2021)
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ETEL ADNAN (1925-2021)

Untitled

Details
ETEL ADNAN (1925-2021)
Untitled
signed and dated 'Adnan 14' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
12 5⁄8 x 16 1⁄8in. (32 x 41cm.)
Painted in 2014
Provenance
Galleria Continua, Beijing.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2014.
Exhibited
Beijing, Galleria Continua, Etel Adnan, 2014 (illustrated in colour on the front and back covers and inside unpaged, incorrectly dated).

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Lot Essay

Etel Adnan’s Untitled (2014) is a poetic evocation of land. A great rose-pink sky casts warm light on the expanse beneath, a series of interlocking geometries whose bright tonalities suggest a balmy summer’s day. In the foreground, crystalline blue conjures a placid sea. Adnan—ever cognisant of how colours interacted with one another—applied her unmixed pigments with a palette knife to achieve crisp, graphic forms. Simultaneously abstract and figurative, the daring composition defies a fixed reading. ‘I like to reach a depth of meaning that has nothing to do with words even if I use words,’ Adnan explained. ‘We want to tap a source from where the words come’ (K. Weaver, ‘The Non-Wordy World’, Poetry Flash, May 1986, p. 15). As if held together by its own internal gravity, the present work is a study in chromatic harmony, a joyful balance of colour, shape, and line.

Untitled was produced in the last years of the artist’s life. For much of her career, Adnan was known almost exclusively as a poet. It was not until 2012 that her paintings gained international attention following their inclusion in Documenta 13 in Kassel. Reviewing the show, critic Roberta Smith called Adnan’s compositions ‘stubbornly radiant’ (R. Smith, ‘Art Show as Unruly Organism’, The New York Times, 14 June 2012). The present painting maps this meteoric ascent: in the two years between Documenta and its creation, Adnan’s work was exhibited at the Museum der Moderne, Salzburg, and the New Museum, New York, among others, and was included in the 77th Whitney Biennial.

Born in Beirut in 1925, Adnan studied philosophy, first at the Sorbonne in Paris, and later at the University of California, Berkeley. It was there, at age 34, that she took up painting, eschewing the French language of her written work in support of the Algerians fighting for independence. ‘Furiously,’ Adnan said, ‘I became a painter. I immersed myself in the new language’ (E. Adnan quoted in K. Wilson-Goldie, Etel Adnan, London 2022, p. 66). At first, she painted pure abstractions before locating her compositions in specific places. Adnan was drawn to California’s dramatic coastline and the majesty of Mount Tamalpais’ rugged peak, taking the grandeur with her even after she returned to Paris in 1990. Once established in an apartment near the Jardin du Luxembourg, she continued to paint the tranquility of this natural world—the horizon, she said, ‘used to be my childhood home’—which she rendered in radiant planes of colour (K. Wilson-Goldie, ibid., p. 127).

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