Drawn to Carmen Herrera

Celebrating the renowned artist with a comic about her life and work

October 6, 2021
Comic cover with the title "In Awe of a Straight Line" and the name Carmen Herrera. The image is a woman taking tape off the corner of a canvas.
Cover illustration from the "In Awe of the Straight Line," the comic about artist Carmen Herrera. All illustrations by Ezra Gaeta.

Carmen Herrera is one of ten artists we chose to include in SAAM’s new comic series, Drawn to Art: Ten Tales of Inspiring Women Artists. Herrera was born in Havana in 1915, moved to New York in 1939 and then to Paris in 1948, where she became part of an international group of artists who were looking to express themselves in painting in a way that would reflect the modern world. After a four-year sojourn, she returned to New York, where she continues to work to this day at the astounding age of 106.

Herrera’s artistic life was marked by the challenges of being a woman artist at a time when the art world was dominated by men. In fact, she was told by one gallery dealer that they could not show her work because she was a woman. She never gave up, and, when she was well into her eighties, began to garner the attention of collectors, gallerists, and museums.

Media - 2011.27A-B - SAAM-2011.27A-B_2 - 90591
Carmen Herrera, Blanco y Verde, 1960, acrylic on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 2011.27A-B, © 1960 Carmen Herrera
Carmen Herrera, Blanco y Verde, 1960, acrylic on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 2011.27A-B, © 1960 Carmen Herrera

Today, her work is internationally known and prized. Influenced by form, color, and architecture, Herrera honed down spare, geometric canvases to two colors, as in Blanco y Verde in SAAM’s collection. Drawn by Ezra Gaeta, a student at the Ringling College of Art and Design, Herrera’s inspiring story is told in a palette of bold reds, deep yellows, and verdant greens. For me, the colors vibrate with the rhythm of old-fashioned travel posters and brochures.

Three square illustration panels that show a woman walking across cities with her footprints trailing behind her.
As a young artist, Carmen Herrera moved from her home of Havanna, to New York, and then to Paris.

One of my favorite moments in the comic is the first series of illustrations where Ezra captured Herrera’s travels, as if she walked from country to country, the artist’s footsteps linking each spot on her journey noted by a distinct color and landmarks. That is what I love about visual storytelling, and one of the reasons the project was conceived: the ability to create images that give the words that help to paint a fuller picture.

The comic takes its title from a remark Herrera once made in reference to her painting: “I believe that I will always be in awe of the straight line. Its beauty is what keeps me painting.”

We invite you to read the comic and share with your friends and young people in your life.

An illustration of a woman standing in front of a wall of colorful, abstract art. The text is a quote from the artist that says "This is an eye opener. This is what I want to do."
Carmen stands in front of artworks that inspired her early on.


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