Prophet of a Useless Nation: Etel Adnan's Apocalyptic Vision for Art
Beirut-born, Lebanese-American poet and visual artist Etel Adnan first rose to international prominence through her literary works on the Lebanese civil wars (officially 1975-1990), such as "Sitt Marie Rose" (1978/1982) and "The Arab Apocalypse" (1980/1989). Although Adnan began practicing painting as a self-taught artist in the 1950s, her visual output was not widely recognized and celebrated until the 21st century. When Adnan finally became a fixture in the international art world, her paintings—mostly bright, colorful landscapes of modest stature—were frequently characterized in opposition to the grim realities and stark language of her earlier writings. Centering on her artist book "The Arab Apocalypse," this thesis examines the artist’s overall approach to meaning-making and the resulting transdisciplinary connections between Adnan’s literary and visual mediums. I suggest that a particular “apocalyptic” vision can be identified in her daily practice of painting Mount Tamalpais in the Bay Area (especially in the 1980s), and I accordingly explore the formal and theoretical resonances between the artist’s landscapes and the oeuvres of Paul C�zanne and Paul Klee. As such, I ultimately argue that Adnan’s paintings articulate a unique response to the so-called “death of (modernist) painting” in the 20th century.