Tuesday, April 05, 2016
Etel Adnan and Good Natured Painting
I have to say, I like Etel Adnan's paintings. I like them in the way I like Paul Klee's paintings, Arthur Dove's paintings, Helen Frankenthaler's paintings, and Milton Avery's. I want to say Serge Poliakoff, Sonia Delauney, and Nicholas de Staël too. A kind of flatish, shape-oriented, spiritual abstraction rooted in nature. Still, her paintings are wholly her own. She made them that way.
I often heard it said long ago when I was in school that painting was an old person's profession. It was also said that you had to make a lot of paintings(800 to be exact) before you could make a good one. Etel Adnan would seem to bear this out. At 91 she is making her best work. At 91, she is nailing it.
I have to confess, I am biased. I relate to her. We both have Greece and the French language in our vagabond youth. We both found asylum in the language of paint. We both found sanctuary in nature. We both like to paint like a cobbler making shoes, a tube of wonderful color, a painting knife, a table top, some morning sun, sometimes a small canvas in the lap.
She has integrated it all. She is in the zone. Atuned to color and shape, orchestrating the space, coalescing the energy, finding new perspectives, shuffling the deck, making new music, hitting different notes, new harmonies, discovering new shapes and new shape relationships, new colors and new color relationships, embedding warm sunlight like paint photosynthesis. Paintsythesis.
I was trained in the arts. When you showed talent, that's what you did. And then of course the challenge became all wrong: the challenge became to distinguish yourself, to get to the top. To succeed. This is where school messes you up. You fight for the top and you are rewarded. It is vertical. But art is anything but.
So the focus is wrong. Too much on self. Too much on who the painting is by. Too self-conscious. When left to one's own devices the focus is where it belongs, on the world around us, on the wonder around us. Klee, Dove, Frankenthaler, Avery, and Adnan, this is what they have in common. This simplicity. This clarity. This integrity. This center. This heart. This inner light.
I haven't read Adnan's work as a writer or philosopher(she was trained at the Sorbonne, Berkeley, and Harvard), but I would bet the house that her pure place is her paintings.
By the way, I am not blaming the system for ruining artists so much as making a case for people who made art not to make something of themselves, but to make something of life. The irony is that we all know full well that to really make something of yourself, well, you make it with what is true. Etel Adnan's paintings are true. Some people might call that good natured, and I would have to agree.