Carmen Herrera (Cuban b. 1915)
Carmen Herrera (Cuban b. 1915)

More Yellow, Less Green

Carmen Herrera (Cuban b. 1915)
More Yellow, Less Green
signed, dated and inscribed 'Carmen Herrera, 1989, MORE YELLOW LESS GREEN' (along the upper back stretcher bar)
acrylic on canvas
42 x 42 in. (106.7 x 106.7 cm.)
Painted in 1989.
Acquired directly from the artist.
Private collection, Miami.
DLG ART Inc, Miami Beach.

Lot Essay

A nonagenarian artist just now beginning to receive her historical due, Carmen Herrera has produced a remarkable body of work over the past half-century that dovetails with the rise of postwar geometric painting from Latin America to Paris to New York. Born in Havana and trained as an architect, Herrera lived in Paris between 1948 and 1954 and encountered there the legacy of early twentieth-century constructivism, from the Bauhaus through the contemporary Salon des Réalités Nouvelles. Following her move to New York, where she still lives, Herrera evolved a rigorous and meditative practice grounded in the languages of abstraction from hard-edge to minimalist, working in a milieu that included her friend Barnett Newman, Ellsworth Kelly and Frank Stella. Although Herrera struggled for years to gain footing in the male-dominated New York art world, her latter-day recognition by institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, the Tate, and the Smithsonian has clearly affirmed her place within the trans-Atlantic narrative of geometric abstraction.

"The initial point of departure in my work is a process of organization that follows the dictates of reason," Herrera once explained. "The visual execution is contained within the latitude allowed by the order so established. It is a process that must choose, among innumerable possibilities, the one that balances reason and emotion."[1] The structural eloquence of her canvases, which juxtapose planes of color in dynamic and precise geometric compositions, issues from this carefully calculated equilibrium between austere rationalism and dramatic color. The intense physicality of her colors, ranging from black and white to saturated reds, yellows, greens, and blues, belies the flatness of the canvas, creating a surface tension in which blocks of color push equally against each other and outward against the edges of the frame. That push-pull effect is foregrounded in the present work along the right-angled edge separating the narrow band of green running across the top and left-hand side of the canvas from the yellow mass that presses insistently upward against it. The compositional pressure radiating from the upper left-hand corner paces the work's structural order, tempering the verticality of the canvas and diverting its energy laterally from left to right.

"Color is the essence of my painting," Herrera has stated, emphasizing its structural and expressive significance. "What starts to happen to it as you reduce its numbers and come down to two colors, then there is a subtlety, an intensity in the way two colors relate to each other."[2] The simplicity of Herrera's colors, flat and strictly calibrated, girds the structure of her paintings, imparting an architectural gravitas and clean, optical rhythms. The title of the present work, More Yellow, Less Green, puts the focus squarely on the asymmetrical relationship between the two colors, asking the viewer to contemplate both the chromatic and the geometric order of the composition. Seen comparatively, the colors appear almost to acquire a metaphorical weight, their relative and contingent positions to each other suggesting spatial harmonies and tensions that transcend the parameters of the canvas surface. "My paintings sometimes are very bold and filled with risk; other times they are subtle," Herrera acknowledges. "I see my paintings at a crossroads, they have much in common with geometry, with minimalism, yet they are neither. To me they are good paintings that do not fit into easy categories."[3]

Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park

1) Carmen Herrera, quoted in Carolina Ponce de León, "Notes for an Exhibition: The Black-And-White Paintings of Carmen Herrera," Carmen Herrera: The Black and White Paintings, 1951-1989 (New York: El Museo del Barrio, 1998), 4.
2) Herrera, quoted in Alejandro Anreus, "Carmen Herrera in the Context of Modern Painting in Cuba," Carmen Herrera: The Black and White Paintings, 18.
3) Ibid., 20.


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