Born 1925 in Beirut, Lebanon
Lives and Works in Sausalito, CA
and Paris, France
Since the 1960s, Lebanese-born artist and writer Etel Adnan has been making accordion-fold books, or leporellos, that meld visual and verbal observation, fusing the artist’s parallel practices in painting and writing as she transcribes poems and records unfolding landscapes and urban spaces. These books exemplify the wide-ranging, nomadic character of Adnan’s life and work: best known as a poet, she studied philosophy in Paris and California after leaving Beirut, and has lived primarily in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Paris for the past five decades. Her writing explores the political and personal dimensions of violence—particularly in response to Lebanon’s civil war—and articulates her experience of exile from familiar landscapes and languages.
While her vibrant, expressive paintings do not make explicit reference to political and social issues, they too reflect Adnan’s call for an intense engagement with the world. The rapid, thick strokes of her palette knife register scenes of personal importance, particularly Mount Tamalpais near her home in California, as well as the Mediterranean Sea; some are painted from memory. The landscape’s distinct forms—mountain, horizon, sea, sun—are knitted together, recording minute shifts of sensory experience and offering an empathetic response to the natural world in response to violence and indifference. Adnan's 2014 Biennial installation also includes one of her tapestries, Champs de Petrol (“oilfields”); these works translate the vivid colors of her paintings into wool, a sensuous material that recalls the feel of the Persian rugs of the artist’s childhood.
Etel Adnan’s work is on view in the Museum’s third floor galleries.