Written by Miss Rosen.
Now 104 years old, Cuban artist Carmen Herrera discovered the secret of long life in her youth: she painted every day. “It makes me feel good,” she told The New York Times, her choice of words and actions just as succinct as her art. Though Herrera is now confined to a wheelchair, she hasn’t stopped pursuing her passions or finally getting the recognition she deserves.
Earlier this summer, Herrera’s first-ever public art installation opened in New York’s City Hall Park. The show, “Estructuras Monumentales”, features five large-scale monochromatic aluminum sculpture first conceived in the 1960s. The seven-decade-long career of the Havana-born painter is a model of patience, endurance, and poise.
Born in Havana in 1915 to a pair of politically active journalists, Herrera began her career studying architecture before leaving school to marry American school teacher Jesse Loewenthal in 1939. When they moved to New York, Herrera already believed her true destiny was to pursue a life in art. “I knew it was going to be a hard life,” she told The Guardian, but she remained focused, disciplined, and unmoored by the politics of the industry.
Adopting Mies van der Rohe’s adage “Less is more,” Herrera became an alchemist, transforming the physical structure of the canvas into a deceptively simple masterpiece. Rather than play the system and create “feminine” art, Herrera stayed true to her heart, embracing the bold strength of minimalism and giving it flair through the use of color and shape.
For decades, Herrera’s work was wholly ignored. But in 2004, the art world finally got on board, with Herrera selling her very first work at the wizened age of 89. Then in 2016, the Whitney Museum of American Art presented “Lines of Sight,” a solo exhibition showcasing Herrera’s most significant works, and giving the Latin émigré her proper due.
For Herrera, painting has always been a conceptual challenge and an intellectual feat. Emotion, should it occur, is a byproduct rather than the motivation to work. Her works echo the words of Leonardo da Vinci, who understood: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
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