A celebrated writer, poet, artist and filmmaker, Etel Adnan is considered a leading figure in modern and contemporary art and an influence on generations of artists, poets and intellectuals. For the past half century, Adnan’s practice, much like her life, has grappled with the diasporic experience, the notion of exile, and the interstitial space of language and identity, which has been sutured through a relentless solace in nature. The daughter of a Greek mother from Smyrna and an Ottoman Turkish father, she grew up in Beirut with a mixture of Greek, Turkish, Arabic and French being spoken around her. She would compose her first poems while studying philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris. She also pursued graduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard University.
Although initially known as a poet, Adnan became well known for the Matisse-like landscapes that she now creates from her desk in Paris. She uses a palette knife to apply oil paint, often directly from the tube. In the late 1950s, Adnan began one of the great relationships of her life—with Mount Tamalpais in northern California. The mountain would become her confidante, friend and obsession for the next two decades, and it continues to figure prominently in her work even today. Commissioned for Sharjah Biennial 12, Mount Tamalpais (2015) is a work from a series of tapestries conceived in the 1970s that were inspired by the textures and colours of the Persian rugs of her childhood. The accompanying untitled paintings from 2012 are illustrative of her emotive painting practice.