Lot 106
  • 106

ETEL ADNAN | Journey to the East

5,000 - 7,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Etel Adnan
  • Journey to the East
  • signed and titled in Arabic, titled and inscribed
  • ink and pastel on paper
  • 38.1 by 45.4 cm. 15 by 18 in.
  • Executed circa 1960.


A gift from the artist to the present owner

Catalogue Note

Delicate and luminous, their colours strikingly reminiscent of the light and colours of the California landscape, the present works are two rare paintings by Etel Adnan from the 1960s. At the time of their execution, the artist was living in the Bay Area, the colours and topography of which became firmly embedded in her mind, and eventually made their way into her work. Both Journey to the East and California were lovingly given by Adnan to a close friend and classmate while she was teaching philosophy at San Rafael’s Dominican College in California, attesting to the long standing relationship between the artist and the present owner. Adnan is renowned for her writing, both her political texts, such as Sitt Mare Rose from 1977 and her collections of poems such as Moonshots from 1966. Her experimental texts, full of vivid imagery are closely connected with her exquisite paintings, which are brimming with colour and energy. Mostly abstract, Adnan’s canvasses can be seen as a translation of her own perception of reality. The present owner describes the artist as “always thinking and absorbed. Analysing and watching. Busy with her thoughts and observations and political problems around the world. Any encounter with her was enlightening and touched me”. It is this ability to synthesise the world around her into such refined interpretations that makes Adnan the fascinating artist that she is. In California, dazzling orthogonal shapes in vibrant shades of emerald green are surrounded by vivid warm hues such as tangerine orange, a rich burgundy and pulsating yellows and pinks. The saturated colours have been generously dosed with a palette knife and are set in stark contrast against swathes of grey and white. The composition might remind the viewer of a landscape, and it is indeed in her surroundings where the artist has found her biggest and most exciting source of inspiration. In one of the many letters Adnan and her dear friend exchanged over the years the artist explained how “America gave me the sense of nature”, and it is the memory of her beloved companion looking through the large window in the living room of the apartment they shared in San Francisco that the owner most cherishes. 

The landscape in the Bay Area is the one that features most prominently in Adnan’s works, particularly Mount Tamalpais on the outskirts of Sausalito where she moved to in the 1970s. Hans Ulrich Obrist has explained how for the artist “Mount Tamalpais became my house. For Cézanne, Sainte-Victoire was no longer a mountain. It was an absolute. It was painting.” (Hans Ulrich Obrist, Etel Adnan. Stories. Maharam, online). Indeed, one can imagine the outline of a mountain in California and Journey to the East depicts a sailboat emerging from a colourful sea of bright blues, greens, oranges and yellows. 

As many other female artists before her, Adnan did not receive the institutional support she deserved until late on in her career. Her retrospective at the Serpentine Gallery in London in 2016 and her recent exhibition of new work at SFMOMA have brought her work to international acclaim, highlighting her deep understanding of colour and her poetic use of line, to create delicate compositions such as California and Journey to the East.