Sunday, 24 July 2016

A light touch in a heavy world.

It's been heartening of late to see lots of exhibitions devoted both to female artists and to artists from parts of the world that don't feature as often in European galleries. With this in mind the Serpentine Sackler's current Etel Adnan:Weight of the World show seemed a good fit.

Born in Beirut in 1925 to a Greek mother from Smyrna and a Syrian father who served in the Ottoman army her childhood was spent in Beirut and Dasmascus and she worked both in Paris and Sausalito in the Bay Area of California.

She started painting when studying in California. Her early abstraction later transforming into more representational works. The bold, life enhancing, colours, however, stayed with her and remain to this day. At 91 she's still going strong.

She's made paintings, drawings, tapestries, films, and written both poetry and prose. All underpinned with an appreciation of the beauty of the world whilst acknowledging the violence around her.

The tapestries, above, are a riot of of colour. Bold. Vital. Sun drenched. Happy. They're a pleasure to be in a room with.

They're recent works. The paintings, below, date from the 60s through to the 80s and are informed by a more muted palette. There's hints of Klee and, to my mind, a huge approving nod in the direction of Paul Cezanne's Mont Sainte Victoire post-impressionist and proto-cubist masterpieces.

There are drawings that look a bit like Rorschach tests. There's a film of forests and birds that lasts a whole HOUR which I certainly wasn't going to watch. Not least after a gallery guard told me off for sitting on the wall. Far better was the tribute, below, to Tuscan hill town San Gimignano where I once had the pleasure of spending a night on holiday.

You can ponder Arabic poems on scrolls though, probably like me, you can't read them. They look nice though. Watercolours of mountains and further untitled geometric abstractions follow. Highly aesthetically pleasing. They reminded me of souks, flags, and the Atlas mountains.

The ceramics certainly had something of the East about them. Something also of Kandinsky and the constructivists. If you were to spot a Cossack or two in the corner you wouldn't be surprised.

Last up is this year's Le poids du Monde series. Simple yet effective. Precise yet loose. Geometric but with bursts of Adnan's trademark colour. It's quite a joy to see an artist completing work like this at such a late period in their life. It's equally touching, and a lesson of sorts, to witness someone so clearly in love with both their work and the world that inspires it.

For the work of Etel Adnan is nothing if it is not a joy.

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