Art style

Remembering Carmen Herrera | Smithsonian Voices

Carmen Herrera, White and Green1960, acrylic on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum Purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 2011.27AB, © 1960 Carmen Herrera

Today we remember the remarkable life and work of Carmen Herrera, who died in her home and studio on February 12 at the age of 106. Carmen Herrera (1915-2022) was a groundbreaking artist whose sharp abstractions were unparalleled at the time of their conception in the late 1940s. However, Herrera’s work only attracted attention that it rightly deserved when she turned ninety-three. His first major solo exhibition in New York took place when Herrera was nearly 101 years old.

Herrera was born in Havana, Cuba, where she studied architecture. When she immigrated to New York in her twenties, she turned to painting. Herrera moved to Paris in 1948, where she developed an entirely abstract and minimalist style of work that resulted in sharp, geometric canvases that defined her style going forward. Although Herrera felt left out of the commercial art scene during her five-year stay in Paris, she interacted with fellow American artists Barnett Newman and Leon Polk Smith, who were also creating geometric works. In White and Green, Herrera constructed a series of pressure points where green triangles meet the edge of the canvases. The result is a dynamic work that invites the viewer to decipher the changing relationships between color and form.

In this video from the SAAM 2013 exhibition, Our America: The Latino Presence in American Artformer curator E. Carmen Ramos looks at Herrera’s diptych painting, White and Green. Ramos notes: “She has developed a large body of work, very experimental and driven by her interest in form, space and color. Many of his works, including White and Greenbegan with sketches drawn mathematically on paper in which she played with different shapes and spaces.


Carmen stands in front of works that inspired her early on. From “In Awe of the Straight Line”, the comic about artist Carmen Herrera. All illustrations by Ezra Gaeta.

Carmen Herrera is one of ten artists we chose to include in SAAM’s recent comic series, Attracted by art: ten stories of inspiring women artists. Herrera’s artistic life was marked by the challenges of being a female artist at a time when the art world was dominated by men. In fact, a gallery owner told her that they couldn’t show her work because she was a woman. She never gave up and, when she was over eighty, began to attract the attention of collectors, gallery owners and museums.
The comic takes its title from a remark Herrera once made in reference to his painting: “I think I will always be in awe of the straight line. Its beauty is what keeps me painting.