Studio Visit with Carmen Herrera in Union Square, NYC
I've had all of these beautiful connections to Carmen Herrera's work before I even met her. Last September during NYFW, I was freelancing at the photo studio the Akris team had rented to prep for their SS17 collection. The collection is a stunning collaboration between Akris' CD Albert Kriemler and Herrera, based on her striking geometric paintings, of which I was able to glimpse before the Swiss brand's public fashion show. One night in October, I finally saw the The 100 Years Show on Netflix, the brilliant documentary about Herrera's life's work, and which also prominently featured her friend and fellow painter Tony Bechara. The following day on the opening night of the New York Film Festival, I happened to see Bechara and introduced myself, mentioning I had just seen the documentary less than 24 hours ago.
Fast forward three months later and I'm sitting across from Herrera in her live/work space just off Union Square, an airy loft she has occupied since the mid-fifties. Bechara schooled me on the art historical significance of the area, Warhol's Factory was just three blocks south, and the iconic (now extinct) nightclub Max's Kansas City, where legends like Robert Rauschenberg and John Chamberlain used to hang, was right around the corner. It was incredible to observe her workstation and see how organic her process is. Herrera creates early drawings of her canvases with the use of a ruler and colored markers, which she hangs on the wall for a period of time. These preliminary sketches then become the blueprint for her soon to be abstract geometric masterpieces.
On a rainy January afternoon, the three of us were gathered round at Herrera's kitchen table, the artist, Bechara, and myself. We all acknowledged our Latinness and smiled. (Herrera is Cuban, Bechara is Puerto-Rican, and myself a Dominican-American). I asked Herrera about her recent high profile shows at Lisson Gallery and the Whitney Museum, of which she was extremely pleased with. I asked her about women artists working today and their progress in the art world, she responded enthusiastically and unapogetically, "women are stronger than men, I'm sorry we just we are!" I asked her about living in New York City and what keeps her motivated and inspired, to which she simply replied, "my friendships".
At 101-years-young, her prolific energy continues on for 2017. The recently closed Lines of Sight retrospective at the Whitney Museum will now travel to the Wexner Center for the Arts in Ohio and opens on February 4th. Between January 11-17, Film Forum will screen her documentary The 100 Years Show (including a Q & A with Tony Bechara) alongside Everybody Knows... Elizabeth Murray, a film about another extraordinary artist, the late Elizabeth Murray. Herrera is also prepping to show a new body of work later this spring at the London branch of Lisson Gallery. At the end of my visit, Herrera affectionately mentioned I was always welcome at her studio, parting with "estás en tu casa". I left smiling ear to ear.