Etel Adnan often took landscape as a starting point for her art. Like Van Gogh, she sought to convey the power of nature on the canvas with a colour palette and painting style all of her own.
Adnan felt, just like Vincent once again, that her paintings bridge the limitations of language. She found a visual idiom in her art that transcends cultural boundaries.
The emphasis in Colour as Language is on Adnan’s paintings. Her landscapes – frequently simplified and with intense colours and abstract forms – enter a dialogue with several works by Van Gogh. The exhibition also includes her ‘leporello’ works, the concertina-style books for which Adnan is known, as well as tapestries and literature.
Adnan’s unique life story features, too. She moved between different cultures and languages for the best part of a century. The implications of growing up with a multicultural background are explored: how did it shape her life and resonate in her art?
Art, literature and poetry
Etel Adnan (1925–2021) was 87 when her paintings made their breakthrough, by which time she had also built an international reputation with her literary prose and poetry. Adnan was an unconventional, intriguing artist, philosopher, writer, painter and activist. She grew up in Beirut, studied in Paris and California, and spent years living and working in the two latter places.
Adnan died on 14 November 2021 at the age of 96, just as this retrospective at the Van Gogh Museum was being prepared.