Colour as Language, a retrospective of work by the artist Etel Adnan (1925-2021) is on view at Van Gogh Museum.
Colour as Language features more than 40 paintings by Etel Adnan. Instead of using an easel when she painted her works, she laid them flat on the table. ‘This comes from the fact that I started as a writer. I put a canvas on the table and I attack the surface as if I am writing’, Adnan once said. Her art is often based on the landscape, and she used colour and form to express herself in the works.
In this sense, Adnan was also inspired by Vincent van Gogh. She saw colour as a direct expression of nature, and she considered Van Gogh to be the first artist to dare to apply this in his art: ‘He really liberated colour. Because he accepted it as true’. In the exhibition, Adnan’s powerful works are presented alongside the equally vivid paintings of Van Gogh, such as Wheatfield (1888) and Tree Roots (1890).
Leporellos and tapestries
Colour as Language also features several of the tapestries designed by Adnan. In her youth in Beirut, Adnan did not have access to museums. She often admired Persian carpets with her father, calling that ‘our art world, back then’.
Adnan saw immense beauty in the craft and thought that the art of weaving was just as valuable as painting. Later in life, she commissioned colourful, abstract tapestries, based on her designs from the 1960s. Three of these tapestries will be on display in the exhibition.
The exhibition also includes leporellos: notebooks made from Japanese paper, with folded concertina-style pages. These leporellos became Adnan’s ultimate medium for drawing and writing, uniting images and language. For example, Adnan copied poetry from contemporary Arabic poets that she admired, before adding her own drawings.
She also had her own texts and poetry translated into Arabic, which she then illustrated on a leporello. Adnan’s leporellos will be displayed alongside a letter from Van Gogh, in which he tells his brother Theo of his interest in these Japanese sketchbooks.
This exhibition has been made possible by the support of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and main partners the VriendenLoterij, Van Lanschot and ASML.
Colour as Language, the first retrospective of work by Etel Adnan in the Netherlands, is on display from 20 May to 4 September 2022 on the first floor of the Exhibition Wing at the Van Gogh Museum.