Carmen Herrera was the second daughter of Carmela Nieto y Font and Antonio Herrera y López de la Torre and was born in Havana. Her father founded El Mundo, a liberal newspaper, while her mother worked as a journalist. Herrera grew up with her mother’s five sons and a daughter. She had been an American abstract, minimalist fine artist and painter of Cuban origin. She was born in Havana and moved to New York in the mid-1950s. Later, Herrera’s abstract works gained her international acclaim. The artist was a pioneer of a style that resembles American colour field painting, op art, and Latin American neo-concretism. In a typical Herrera painting, two opposing colour planes are balanced across a broad canvas. Each work in the Blanco y Verde series (1959-71) is painted consistently white in acrylic, except for one or more green triangles, each with subtle variations in acuteness that stretch the composition’s breadth or length.

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Cameran Herrera_©Public Art Fund

As a designer

Herrera’s creative approach was rather simple and tidy, which is to be expected considering her professional background. Step one was to sit beside a wide bank of windows facing out across E 19th St. and sketch using pencil and graph paper. Every morning at 9:30 a.m., this process began. Step 2: She “transfers the idea to a tiny chunk of vellum and colourizes the sketch using an acrylic paint marker.” Then there was a larger version of the piece to ensure that her original notion was still conveyed. She had her aide, Manuel Belduma, sketch out the lines with tapes on canvas under her watchful eye if it satisfied her approval. After that, the painting can commence. She would usually apply the initial coat, while Belduma would apply the succeeding layers. The painting was then displayed throughout the studio for her perusal, and she would occasionally scrap it and return to the drawing board in the pursuit of simplicity. Belduma oversaw acquiring supplies and assisting her with the day studio operations, in addition to offering a competent set of hands. Herrera’s artistic method included an often-overlooked contributor.

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Approach_©Lucy Rees

As an Artist

Herrera also sculpted wood sculptures at the human scale. These sought to balance many elements, painted in a flat colour palette monochromatic, into basic geometric designs, like the acrylic paintings. Untitled (1971), presently in the Walker Art Centre’s collection in Minneapolis, is made up of a large rectangular block of wood that is over a meter in length and width but just eight centimetres deep, balanced on top of an easily noticeable wood block that is similar in depth and painted royal blue. Later in life, she began to create public works, dubbed Estructuras Monumentales, which were abstract creations produced in monochromatically painted aluminium.

Her work

In Buffalo Bayou Park, an outdoor exhibition of oversized aluminium structures was on display in April, 2021. The consistency of her work is what gives it its brilliance and beauty,” says one critic. Estructuras Monumentales, which debuted in Manhattan’s Town Hall Park last year, is the first Public Art Found exhibition on the road, with its stop in the Bayou City marking only the second time Herrera’s dynamic sculptures have been seen anywhere in the world.

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Estructuras Monumentales_©Paul Hester

Rondo (Blue and Yellow)

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Rondo _©Museum Associates/ LACMA

Rondo is a somewhat late piece that employs Herrera’s characteristic round-canvas approach, and it is substantially more intricate than it appears. It is made up of diverse shapes that appear to be separate from one another even though they are all part of a bigger total. This sense that various facets of the painting will not indeed very sit still next to each other, like earlier works, generates a peripheral sense of flutter or movement between different incarnations of the overall form, almost fooling the eye into thinking the central gemstone shape is emerging from the centre of the canvas.

Such effects are commonly seen in the work of Op Art painters such as Vasarely and Riley. Herrera’s achievement is notable in that he worked for so long on the cutting edge of post-Constructivist, Concrete, and Optics Art with so little recognition. She also offers a distinct musical association to the Op Art approach in this case, with the term “Rondo” referring to a phase in a musical score centred on a recurring lead melody. The roundness of the canvas may be a gesture to the circular logic of the musical pattern represented, implying a humorous knowledge of the painting’s propensity to offer recurring visual patterns to the viewer. At the same time, works like Rondo stand out for the strong sense of colour harmony they convey.

Black & Orange 

Black & Orange _©Museum Associates/ LACMA

The L-shaped flat plane of orange in Black & Orange (1989) locks into a black background. Two black triangles balance atop each other against a white background in Equilibrio (2017). The large-scale aluminium sculpture Estructura Verde (2018), derived from a 1966 painting, currently on show in the plaza of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, consists of two L-shaped green forms that rest on each other awkwardly, with an apparent gap between them.


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