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

Cadmium Red & Cobalt Blue

Details
Carmen Herrera (b. 1915)
Cadmium Red & Cobalt Blue
signed, titled and dated 'CADMIUM RED & COBALT BLUE / Carmen Herrera / 1988' (on the overlap)
acrylic on canvas
42 x 42 in. (106.7 x 106.7 cm.)
Painted in 1988.
Provenance
Private collection, Miami, acquired directly from the artist
Acquired from the above by the present owner

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Rachael White
Rachael White

Lot Essay

With a commanding presence that includes bold colors, crisp lines, and strong shapes, Cadmium Red & Cobalt Blue (1988) is an exceptional example of Cuban artist Carmen Herrera’s expansive and impressive body of work. Herrera’s Minimalist sensibility and dynamic use of color, lines and shapes are abundantly present, all of which are defining characteristics of Herrera’s vast oeuvre. Executed at a pinnacle moment in the artist’s career, Cadmium Red & Cobalt Blue is a potent example of Herrera’s uncanny command of the dialogue between color and form, and how the interplay of these two facets of painting can transcend the confines of the canvas.
As the title conveys, Cadmium Red & Cobalt Blue is a striking composition of pure, primary colors. Color is the essence of my painting,” Carmen Herrera has declared. “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. . .” (C. Herrera quoted in A. Anreus, “Carmen Herrera in the Context of Modern Painting in Cuba,” in Carmen Herrera: The Black and White Paintings, 1951-1989, New York, 1998, p. 18, 22). An energy is imbued into the painted surface through the subtle yet powerful interaction between these starkly different colors at play, and the pattern formed within the composition both complements and emphasizes the varying tones. In quintessential Herrera style, Cadmium Red & Cobalt Blue asks viewers to meditate and reflect upon the interplay between contrasting colors and negative space.
Although her rise to recognition was long-delayed, Herrera has been producing work continuously since the 1940s. Born in 1915 in Havana, Cuba, Herrera discovered and refined her talent both at home and abroad. She studied at the Art Students League in New York, and was deeply moved by her encounter with twentieth-century Constructivism during her time in Paris, inspiring her to focus her studies on architecture at the University of Havana in 1937. The artist’s architecture training exposed her to the beauty and power of constructed forms, and this exposure and deep-rooted knowledge is imbued in her artistic output. The artist recalls about her indebtedness to architecture, “There, an extraordinary world opened up to me that never closed. The world of straight lines, which has interested me until this very day” (C. Herrera, quoted in “El Color de la Palabra : 32 Artistas Cubanos: Entrevistas de Gustavo Valdés, Jr.,” Stet Magazine 1, no. 2, Winter 1992, p. 21).
Her studies were interrupted by political upheaval and by her marriage, in 1939, to Jesse Loewenthal, an English teacher at Manhattan’s Stuyvesant High School, and their subsequent departure for New York. Herrera made rounds at the city’s museums and galleries and soon returned to painting, enrolling at the Art Students League. Although she longed for exhibition opportunities and the receptive community that she had known in Havana, she made a few, lasting friendships among the downtown crowd. “We spoke about the nature of abstraction, its very essence,” Herrera recollects of her conversations with Barnett Newman, who became a close friend. “Barney felt strongly that abstraction needed a mythological or religious basis; I, on the other hand, wanted something clearer, less romantic and dark” (C. Herrera, quoted in A. Anreus, “Carmen Herrera in the Context of Modern Painting in Cuba,” in C. Ponce de León, ed., Carmen Herrera: The Black and White Paintings, 1951-1989, p. 18). Compounded by her status as a Cuban woman in a xenophobic and male-dominated art world, Herrera would find herself on the fringes of the artistic conversation, despite her pioneering and revelatory artistic vision, well into her 90s. It is around this time of creative isolation that Herrera came into her mature style, and developed the foundational series to which the present work belongs.
Herrera’s star has remained ascendant since her early years of creating, and she continues to work in the Gramercy loft where she has lived for more than sixty years. The resilience of her painting across decades of indifference is testament to its visual force and continuing contemporaneity, amid a renewal of critical attention to Minimalism, Form Abstraction, and Latin American abstraction. The structural color field components of Herrera’s work call to mind works of Ellsworth Kelly, Piet Mondrian, Josef Albers, Kazimir Malevich, and Barnett Newman. The celebration of both color, shape, and hard edges are present in these artist’s works as well as Herrera’s. Long excluded from the artistic discourse surrounding minimalist abstraction and its proponents, Herrera was a true pioneer in the form. At the same moment that Frank Stella and Ellsworth Kelly were executing artworks that would emblazon their names in the pantheon of art history, Herrera was pulling from her formal training and in the words of the artist, “a compulsion that also gives me pleasure” (C. Herrera, quoted in D. Sontag, “At 91, She’s the Hot New Thing in Painting,” New York Times, 19 December 2000) to establish an inimitable voice in the idiom. Now the artist’s works are in the most reputable and prestigious institutions in the world, including the permanent collections of Tate, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, signaling a long-delayed but much deserved institutional support for the artist.

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