Thursday, May 05, 2016

A Search for Simplicity

“Life is interesting if you let it be.
Carmen Herrera

The Cuban artist Carmen Herrera, who has lived in New York for last 62 years, sold her first painting at the age of 89. In September of 2016 the 101-year-old artist will have a solo retrospective exhibition at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art.

After attending a finishing school in Paris, Herrera returned to Havana in 1935 to study architecture and four years later she was married to the American teacher Jesse Loewenthal, had given up architecture and moved to New York.

About her 70-year marriage Herrera told the Guardian Newspaper’s Hermione HobyI always used to say: my husband, he likes to teach and I like to learn.

In New York she took up painting which quickly turned into a vocation.

As she told the Telegraph Newspaper’s Helena de BertodanoIt hit me in New York. I realized one day, my God, I’m an artist, how horrible.

After the Second World War the couple moved to Paris. And it was in Paris that Herrera discovered the hard edge geometric abstraction that was to become the mainstay of her oeuvre.

About which she explained “I was in Paris at the time. I was walking around and I found something called Nouvelles Réalités [a salon of artists focusing on abstract art]. And that was an eye-opener. I thought this is what I want to do. I went to the studio and I worked and worked and worked and worked. I was angry that I didn't know about this before.

And thus began her life long quest, about which she reminisced in 2005 “I began a lifelong process of purification, a process of taking away what isn’t essential.”

In the early 1950’s the couple returned to New York and Herrera continued to paint in relative obscurity.

As she says “Things happen in a funny way. I mean you have to be in the right place at the right time, which I always managed not to be. But at the same time, people were not ready to receive my work. Years ago somebody called Rose Fried had a very avant-garde gallery in New York and said she was thinking of giving me a show. Then I went back to the gallery and she said, you know, Carmen, you can paint circles around the men artists that I have but I'm not going to give you a show because you're a woman. I felt as if someone had slapped me on the face. I felt for the first time what discrimination was. It's a terrible thing. I just walked out.

Undeterred Herrera continued with her work and her quest which she says “is for the simplest of pictorial resolutions.” To which she has added “There is nothing I love more than to make a straight line. How can I explain it? It’s the beginning of all structures, really.”

Herrera’s self-titled exhibition of recent paintings is currently on show and New York’s Lisson Gallery until the 11th of June.


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