Artist spotlight: Carmen Herrera – a master of geometric abstraction
I have often remark that it's equally important – if not more important – what is left unsaid than what we say. For me this is also true in visual art and design. The intentional white space we leave between the elements is integral part of any work we produce, how it is viewed and experienced.
Cuban-American artist Carmen Herrera (May 31, 1915 – February 12, 2022) was known for her abstract geometric paintings and sculptures and a master of eliminating everything unnecessary from her work. She once remarked that “it has been a lifelong process of purification, a process of taking away what isn’t essential”.
Born in Havana in 1915, Herrera studied architecture at the Universidad de La Habana before moving to Paris in the late 1940s to pursue a career in art. In Paris, Herrera was influenced by the work of artists such as Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg, and began to develop her signature style of geometric abstraction.
Carmen Herrera's art is characterized by its simple, bold forms, geometric shapes, and use of color remarking that it was "the beauty of the straight line" that kept her going. Working with a limited color palette, Herrera used geometric shapes and clean lines to create a sense of order and balance in her compositions. Although sometimes described as "austere" and "precise", Herrera was a master of exploring complex visual experiences with simplicity and minimalism.
Although she continued to create art throughout the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, Carmen Herrera largely remained under the radar and struggled to gain recognition in the male-dominated art world of the time.
Image from the exhibition, "Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight" Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
It wasn't until the early 2000s, when Herrera was in her late 80s, that she began to receive the recognition she deserved. In 2004, she had her first solo exhibition at a major museum, at the El Museo del Barrio in New York. Since then, her work has been exhibited at major institutions such as the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
“It has been a lifelong process of purification, a process of taking away what isn’t essential”.
- Carmen Herrera
One of Herrera's most famous works is the "Blanco y Verde" series, which features a series of white and green paintings. The series is composed of large, rectangular canvases that are divided into geometric shapes, with some shapes painted white and others painted green. The paintings are arranged in a grid-like pattern, creating a sense of order and symmetry.
Selected works by Carmen Herrera. Copyrights unknows.
Another notable work by Herrera is the "Estructuras" series, which features three-dimensional sculptures made of wood or metal. The sculptures are composed of simple, geometric shapes that are arranged in intricate and often unexpected ways, creating a sense of movement and tension.
The “beauty of the straight line”...
Estructuras by Carmen Herrera series features three-dimensional sculptures made of wood or metal. Image: Installation photograph, Carmen Herrera's Estructura Verde, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Oct. 9, 2021 - Feb. 13, 2022, © Carmen Herrera, photo © Museum Associates/ LACMA, by Brica Wilcox;
Carmen Herrera, Angulo Rojo, 2017; Acrylic and aluminum, 84 x 120 7/8 x 19 in © Carmen Herrera; Courtesy Lisson Gallery
Photo: Nicholas Knight, Courtesy of Public Art Fund, NY
Ms. Herrera kept creating art till the end; she died in February 2022 at the age of 107. It was the “beauty of the straight line” that kept her going to the end.
Carmen Herrera remained active until her death at age of 107, in 2022.