Painter and artist Etel Adnan had a unique style of painting that used simple geometric shapes to create complex natural landscapes.


Etel Adnan, 2014. Photo by Patrick Dandy. Courtesy of White Cube.
Etel Adnan, 2014; Photo: Patrick Dandy/White Cube

Born in Beruit in 1925, Adnan had a Greek mother and a Syrian father and she grew up speaking Greek, Arabic, and French. As an adult, Adnan lived for extended periods in the United States, Lebanon, and France.

In the 1950s, Adnan began painting in the United States while she was working as a professor of philosophy in Northern California. In addition to painting, Adnan was a poet and novelist and, during this period, she renounced writing in French in protest of France’s colonial rule in Algeria.

Both Adnan’s creative work and life were strongly influenced by war and political upheaval. While her writing focused more on social injustice and war, her paintings were representations of faith in the human spirit and Adnan’s dynamic relationship with the world around her.


Etel Adnan, Untitled, 2010; Photo: Etel Adnan

Her work used a lot of simple geometric shapes that are meant to convey certain natural settings like a mountain, the sun, ocean, sky, etc. The settings in her paintings were inspired by the memory of certain views throughout Adnan’s life. For example, Mount Tamalpais, which was the view from her backyard in her California home for many years, is the subject of many of her paintings.

The settings shift throughout her work with different light and weather patterns. The technique Adnan used to paint is simple: she laid her canvases flat on a desk and applied the pigments directly from the tube. She then used a pallet knife to create the shape needed for the natural element being conveyed.


Etel Adnan, Ohne Titel, 2015. Oil on linen, 38 x 46 cm. © Etel Adnan-Courtesy Galerie Lelong, Paris.
Etel Adnan, Ohne Titel, 2015. Oil on linen, 38 x 46 cm; Photo: Etel Adnan/Galerie Lelong

In addition to writing and painting, Adnan was also experienced with ceramics, carpets, drawings, prints, and film. One of her shows was titled Impossible Homecoming and was displayed at the Pera Museum in Turkey. Curated by Serhan Ada and Simone Fattal, this exhibition curated a collection of Adnan’s work in all of these different mediums.

While this exhibition ran through August 2021, an exhibition dedicated to Adnan was displayed at the Guggenheim in New York in October 2021. The exhibition titled Light’s New Measure got its name from a poem that Adnan published in 2012 in a book called Sea and Fog.

Katherine Brinson, Daskalopoulos Curator of Contemporary Art and organizer of this exhibition stated, “We chose this title because it evokes some of the elemental and really sublime visual language that unfolds in the paintings, textiles, and works on paper you see displayed in these galleries.”