She knew her mind. And what she wanted. Carmen Herrera became very defiant, late in her life. I remembered when I tried to interview her. My Spanish was not that good and she refused to speak to me in English. Only Spanish she told her gallery. I couldn’t believe it.
I liked her spirit. My great grandmother lived to 108 years old. I understood that strength. Nonethless, I just wanted her to tell me what life was like for her. We need those pearls of wisdom today.
Born in Havana, Cuba, in 1915, Herrera was the daughter of the founding editor of the Havana-based newspaper El Mundo and a mother who was a reporter.
She studied architecture at a university in Havana, and moved frequently between Cuba and Paris during the 1930s and 1940s. She trained at the Art Students League in New York where she settled in the mid-1950s after marrying Jesse Lowenthal, a teacher of literature at Stuyvesant High School. He died in 2000.
With her “hard-edged style of pared-down geometric shapes” and “simplified palettes,” she established herself as a leading abstract artist of both the late 20th and early 21st centuries, James Meyer, the curator of modern art at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, said in an interview. Ms. Herrera, Meyer said, “is an example of an artist persisting in her work, unaffected by lack of recognition, a lack of sales, pursuing her vision with great rigor and self-confidence and happily receiving recognition late in life.”
“The core to Carmen Herrera’s painting is a drive for formal simplicity and a striking sense of color,” according to the London-based Lisson Gallery. “A master of crisp lines and contrasting chromatic planes, Herrera creates symmetry, asymmetry and an infinite variety of movement, rhythm and spatial tension across the canvas.”
She has left a beautiful legacy behind. One that I hope will be appreciated in decades to come. Though she was not discovered until 89 years of age, she has cut through various layers with her colors and shapes to stand firm in a very competitive art world.