Etel Adnan, Colour is all a painter needs

Stuart Bush Studio, Etel Adnan

Etel Adnan shows colour alone is all that the painter needs

Viewing Etel Adnan’s vibrant paintings, it is surprising to discover that when Adnan grew up in Beirut, colour only found its way into her home in the form of decorative rugs.  Adnan’s childhood home had no paintings on the walls and there were no art museums nearby.   Nevertheless, she became interested in making art.  Unfortunately for her and us, Adnan was discouraged by her mother’s nullifying comments about being clumsy. So instead, Adnan found her creative outlet through writing.  In 1977 she won the France-Pays Arabes award for her novel Sitt Marie Rose.


Many years later after Adnan moved to America and she was teaching Aesthetics at the Dominican College in California she also picked up a brush.  Adnan’s colleague Ann O’Hanlon enthusiastically encouraged her to start painting.  This encouragement freed the 35-year-old Adnan, and she soon was in a love affair with the colours of the Californian landscape.


Etel Adnan shows colour alone is all that the painter needs

The ulimate experience - Crashing waves by Mary Heilmann

The iconic peak of Mount Tamalpais near San Francisco was visible from her apartment.  Along with this and natural shapes and forms of the landscape like triangles, squares and circles, Adnan found her own way forward. Form and mass penetrated her soul and found their way on to her canvases as she painted her spatial experiments. The resulting paintings certainly had the power to affect the soul of the viewer. Adnan painted her canvases on a table in a room in her apartment.  She uses a palette knife to create buttery slabs of pure colour, often using oil paint directly from the tube.


Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Paul Klee, Etel Adnans

Paul Klee, Castle and Sun 1928 All rights remain with the artist ©Paul Klee

Paul Klee, the German artist, was a significant influence for Adnan.  Klee came to prominence in the 1920s while teaching at the Bauhaus. Like Adnan, Klee began by working in a different field. Then in 1914 the violinist visited Tunisia and overwhelmed by the inspiring light started painting.  Klee began to create a harmony of colours using rectangles on a canvas.  He believed that colour could create different responses, similar to the way that music keys do.  Klee composed his paintings like he was making a symphony.  There is a surprisingly similar approach in Adnan work, but an altogether different looking outcome.


Etel Adnan shows colour alone is all that the painter needs

Etel Adnan's site

In each canvas, Adnan reorganises what she sees into different compositions in a wide variety of pastel tones.  Each painting has its own rhythm, energy and its own structural arrangement. Adnan uses colour to see what it can do and explores what colour can communicate.  Her work is akin to a poem or a musical composition.  The result is something unique and beautiful. Her subtle adjustments of the landscape create a visual symphony that celebrates light.


Up until 2012, Adnan had small shows and was known as a painter only by an intimate audience.  At 87, her work received recognition by being included in Documenta. Since then, Adnan had exhibitions at the Serpentine Gallery, the Whitney Biennial and White Cube in London.


Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Etel Adnan

Etel Adnan, Untitled 2014 All rights remain with the artist ©Etel Adnan

Etel Adnan shows colour alone is all that the painter needs

What I see in Tal R’s paintings

Adnan later said it was poetic justice that she came to painting through poetry, and she discovered that the reality she saw in her art was up for grabs.  Through observing nature, Adnan’s use of the sun, mountains and the horizon suggests a world seen through tinted glasses.  Each painting has a spirit, a lifting force that makes you feel warm inside.  Adnan paintings encourage us to look at the world and then look beyond what we think we see.  She understands the rules and power of colour along with natural know-how of how to use them. I felt that her abstract values were like a path to some kind of truth.  Her work says that colour alone is all that the painter needs.

Stuart Bush Studio Notes

If you find Etel Adnan’s work speaks to you, please click the link to look at my response to Adnan’s work.

I don't know what it is but I am sure it is highlighting some kind of truth. ‘Great Souled Way’ #oilpaintingoncanvas #figurepainting #abstractpainting #londonart ...

Not sure where I am going with this one. Today mistakes. Work in progress #workinprogress #todaymistakes #oilonaluminum ...

@stuart.bush New painting, please help with suggestions for a title. Or please DM me if you have any questions about it #oiloncanvas #figureinthecity #inthestudiotoday ...

Reed Hoffman said “if you're not embarrassed by the first project you launch you're too late” I feel awkward and uncomfortable showing these new artworks for the first time. It is still #workinprogress ...

#stuart.bush #oilonaluminum #newartwork ...

@damienhirst #ilfracombeharbour #publicart ...

@stuart.bush photo from current show @rugby_art_gallery_and_museum #artistsoninstagram #artist #artexhibition #paintingexhibition #oilpainting #inthecity #figure #contemporarypainter #contemporarypainting #citylife #londonlife please click my bio to join my mailing list ...

Final day of my show, @Rugby Art Gallery #artgallery #artistsoninstagram #paintingexhibition #figurepainting #artwork #painter please click on my bio link to join my mailing list ...

@stuart.bush #figurepainting #sketches #art #paper #gesture #artistsoninstagram ...

2 thoughts on “Etel Adnan, Colour is all a painter needs”

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