“La Fulgurance du geste” de Etel Adnan à la Fondation Jan Michalski

Etel Adnan paints universal rhythms and visual reflections in words, lines and colour
at the Fondation Jan Michalski

Nestled at the foot of the Vaudois Jura mountains, the Fondation Jan Michalski pour l’écriture et la littérature is a historical haven for writers and artists alike, who, since its creation in 2004 have been attracted by its bucolic setting and literary heritage including a stunning public library housing modern and contemporary literature in several languages. Not only providing resources of a literary nature however, the Fondation showcases artistic exhibitions in it’s capacious auditorium on the first level of the main building. Currently showing is ‘La fulgurance du geste’ a selection of works completed from the mid-Seventies up until 2017 by the Lebanese-American poet, philosopher and artist Etel Adnan. Born in Beirut in 1925 to a Greek mother and Syrian father, Adnan spent her early years attending French schools in the Lebanon, later studying philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris and stays at Berkeley, Harvard and San Francisco in the United States. A resolute figure of feminism and the movement for peace, political commentator, social observer and witness to diversity, hers has been a life lived on an East-West cross-cultural axis and one which nurtured in her a cosmopolitain, multitudinal character and sense of free spirit.

At the beginning of the 1960s, while teaching philosophy at the Dominican University of California in San Rafael and coinciding with her first poems written in English, Adnan began painting as a way of expressing her language and thoughts beyond words. Using paints often applied to the canvas directly from the tube or layered firmly with a palette knife, Adnan’s earliest abstract works, often characterized by a single, red square – an iconic representation of the sun and her favourite colour – contain a sense of what would be to come. A common, vital gesture runs through Adnan’s works expressed through diverse mediums – oil and watercolour paintings, drawings, leporellos, chinese ink calligraphies, tapestries, engravings – that of a celebration of the world and its inherent beauty.

IMG_6973Fondation Jan Michalski Photo © oneARTlover

On climbing the oak stairs to the upper floor exhibition space, one’s vision is immediately drawn to five colourful small-scale works, completed between 1975 and 1989. The first, ‘Soleil carré’ (1989) is a tapestry in wool, depicting the single red square, woven by Adnan. Four oil compositions follow: ‘Cactus’ (1980), ‘Train in the snow’ (1975), ‘Colour scale’ (1975) and ‘Hot’ (1980). These earlier abstract works contrast with a later series ‘Le poids de la lune’ and ‘Le poids du monde’ (2017) which depart from the richer textural finish. Instead Adnan applies bold, flat, colour, often applied in one movement, radiating intense shades in simple, uncomplicated lines. Chromatic blocks, representing natural elements are recurrent in her work – mountains, dunes, suns, moons and seasons – all become elemental shapes of the natural world, expressing the rhythms of life through pure, joyful, colour. This is demonstrated beautifully in a series of rich and vibrant lithographs – ‘Vue sur la mer’, ‘Black Forest’, ‘To the ocean’, ‘Un moment de lumière’ and ‘California’ (2017).

EtelAdnan_ColourScale_W20070.jpgEtel Adnan ‘Colour Scale’ (1975) oil on canvas 54 x 65 cm Copyright © Etel Adnan

EtelAdnan_Hot_W20071.jpgEtel Adnan ‘Hot’ (1980) oil on canvas 57 x 40,5 cm Copyright © Etel Adnan

EtelAdnan_SansTitreW18131.jpgEtel Adnan ‘Sans titre’ (2014) oil on canvas 24,5 x 30 cm
Copyright © Etel Adnan I Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co

In the 1970s, Adnan moved to the area north of San Francisco near Mount Tamalpais, discovering the vast American landscape that would be her great revelation. Mount Tamalpais became her “house”, just as, in her words, Sainte-Victoire was no longer a mountain for Cézanne but “an absolute, a painting”. From 1968 to 1986, Adnan depicted Mount Tamalpais over and over again, describing it as her “best friend”, a physical and psychological point of reference to make her feel at home. Her series of seven pencil and watercolour drawings, entitled ‘Montagne Sainte-Victoire’ (1990) demonstrate this notion of revisiting the same subject, yet never seeing the same colours or experiencing the same feelings. The seven representations each capture one mountain, but all are different. A film running as part of the exhibition documents Adnan in conversation with Hans Ulrich Obrist where she reflects that “one can depict the same thing in many different ways”. That one thing, a tree perhaps, can remain a constant anchoring presence and companion for life, despite it’s ever-changing appearance, in the same way that the mountain became her grounding force.

EtelAdnan_Montagne2_W19172.jpgEtel Adnan ‘Montagne 2’ (2015) chinese ink on paper 38 x 45 cm
Copyright © Etel Adnan I Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co

Of particular interest are the leporellos, small concertinaed Japanese books which Adnan discovered in 1964 during her time in San Francisco in Japantown. The elongated format enabled her to combine drawing, writing and poetry, working with tense passion so “as not to make a mistake at the end of the line”. ‘Inkpots’ (2013) illustrates consecutive images from left to right in varying hues, revealed one after the other after every fold, to then be closed away in a neat little square. Other works include an exquisite ‘basse-lisse’ woolen tapestry ‘Acrobaties printanières’ (2015), produced from original designs completed between 1967-1970, demonstrating Adnan’s skill as a weaver and reminiscent of the familiar colour and texture of Persian rugs from her childhood.

EtelAdnan_AccrobatiesPrintanieresW18647.jpgEtel Adnan ‘Acrobaties printanières’ basse-lisse tapestry 100% wool (1967-1970) (produced in 2015) copy 1/3 160 x 200 cm
Copyright © Etel Adnan I Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co

Adnan’s passion for life and learning shines through in this exhibition, her chromatic spirituality radiating, as if filtered through a certain inner ‘joie de vivre’. It is a reassuring visual history of wise observation, sensitivity, appreciation and most of all a dazzling celebration of our natural world and universe.

EtelAdnan_Black Forest.jpgEtel Adnan ‘Black Forest’ (2017) lithograph 43 x 44 cm
Copyright © Etel Adnan I Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co

EtelAdnan_Californie.jpgEtel Adnan ‘California’ (2017) lithograph, 48 x 38 cm
Copyright © Etel Adnan I Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co

IMG_6972.jpgFondation Jan Michalski Photo © oneARTlover

Etel Adnan “La fulgurance du geste”
Fondation Jan Michalski pour l’écriture et la littérature, Montricher, Switzerland
16 February to 20 May 2018

Toute reproduction interdite
www.arteez.ch 2018