Born in Bucharest, Romania, Hedda Sterne showed an interest in art and literature at a young age and saw her first Surrealist art exhibition when she was six. She pursued a degree in philosophy and art history, but found the curriculum too limiting and left university after a year. Sterne traveled across Europe, studying in artists' studios until 1941, when she narrowly missed a Jewish round-up in Bucharest. She fled to New York City, which she found to be bewildering at first, but used the city as inspiration, taming the strangeness of her new surroundings in what would become her best-known works.
Sterne quickly became associated with other artists working with abstraction and was the only woman in the rebellious artistic group dubbed The Irascibles. Constantly experimenting with different techniques and approaches, she resisted association with artistic trends and styles. Throughout her work, Sterne strove to make the familiar mysterious. She saw herself as more of a conduit of the art, rather than its creator. She stopped creating art in 2004 due to health reasons, but continues to be guided by artistic thought. "I am only one small speck (hardly an atom)," she says, "in the uninterrupted flux of the world around me."