Role Model: Artist Carmen Herrera, 101 ‘I do it because I have to’

Todd Heisler for the New York Times

Todd Heisler for the New York Times

Cuban Painter Carmen Herrera sold her first painting at age 89, after nearly seventy years of making art. By age 101 she saw her work collected by the Tate Modern, Whitney, MoMA and the Walker Art Center. Recently, she has been the focus of numerous articles about the discovery of a great talent that was hiding in plain sight, or rather, NOT seen, because she was a woman in a male-dominated field. We recommend profiles in the Guardian and the New York Times, and a short documentary called, The 100 Years Show.

Ken Adlard, Courtesy of the Lisson Gallery

Ken Adlard, Courtesy of the Lisson Gallery

Wheelchair bound, Herrera continues to plan drawings that she makes with the help of a trusted assistant’s hands and eyes. When asked why she kept going all the years living in obscurity she said:

I do it because I have to. I have my ideas. I do my drawings. I make my paintings. It’s my love of the straight line that keeps me going. This has not changed…

…I thought maybe the market would be corrupting. Without commercial success you can do what you want to do. There is freedom to be working alone.  But, oh, when my work began to sell! I thought, Damn it, it’s about time

 

Collection of Stanley Stairs and Leslie Powell; courtesy Ikon Gallery

Collection of Stanley Stairs and Leslie Powell; courtesy Ikon Gallery

We’ve seen pictures of her spanning her life, from fierce beauty…

Victor Laredo, Courtesy of Carmen Herrera

Victor Laredo, Courtesy of Carmen Herrera

….

Carmen Herrera

Carmen Herrera

…to mature woman…

Carmen Herrera and Gustavo Valdes

Carmen Herrera and Gustavo Valdes

…to ancient…

Erik Madigan Heck

Erik Madigan Heck

What strikes us most is her hands. Although aged, they seem to defy age completely because they are so actively involved in creating beauty, still.

Chris Buck for The Guardian

Chris Buck for The Guardian

Like all true creatives:

I do it because I have to.

Carmen Herrera

Carmen Herrera

With thanks to Ellen Silverman.

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