Herrera’s life is divided between Cuba and New York, but it was in Paris that her work took its most decisive turn. In dialogue with older avant-garde artists like Piet Mondrian as well as artists of her own generation, like Ellsworth Kelly, whose work took a similar turn in Paris, Herrera developed a visual language of hard edges, limited colors, and simple geometric shapes. Her breakthrough moment arrived via three black-and-white paintings—including _Untitled_—with which she announced her dedication to the stark abstraction that would become her lifelong calling. Afterward, she said, “I never met a straight line I did not like.”
Gallery label from 2019
Can you see the zigzag that goes across this painting? Follow it with your finger in the air. What looks like a line is actually created by the many different places where white paint meets black paint.
Gallery label from 2019 for kids
To make this work, Herrera painted vertical bands of black and white at varying lengths and with diagonal breaks that create a two-tone zigzag pattern. She extended her pattern to the face and sides of the frame, giving the object a sense of dynamic totality. "I began a lifelong process of purification, a process of taking away what isn't essential," she explained. Although active in Paris and New York from the late 1940s on, she did not sell a painting until 2004, at the age of eighty-nine. She has recalled that one dealer bluntly told her, "You can paint circles around the male artists that I have, but I'm not going to give you a show because you're a woman."
Gallery label from Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction, April 19 - August 13, 2017