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After decades of slights, Cuban painter tastes fame at 101

Agencies | Updated: 2017-01-10 07:15

After decades of slights, Cuban painter tastes fame at 101

Pioneer Cuban-American artist Carmen Herrera, 101, poses for photos while being interviewed in her studio on Jan 4, in New York. [Photo/Agencies]

Cuban-American artist Carmen Herrera has been painting for decades. And painting. And painting. At age 89, she finally sold something.

And now, at 101, true recognition has arrived: an exhibit of her work at the Whitney Museum of American Art and a documentary on her life soon coming out in New York, where she has lived for 70 years.

Herrera may not be in her prime, but her career is going gangbusters.

"It was about time. Good lord! They waited too long," Herrera says in an interview at her apartment and studio in Union Square, where she has lived for nearly 50 years.

Fame, she says, "is pleasant but not that big a deal". She then offered her visitor a glass of whisky.

Herrera was born in Cuba in 1915 to journalist parents, studied painting as a child, traveled to Paris to study more and then began architecture at the University of Havana.

As a young woman she fell in love with Jesse Loewenthal, a New Yorker who taught English and was visiting Cuba. She moved to Manhattan with him and continued to study art.

Her work is abstract: simple and austere, but showing a strong, vivid sense of color.

Herrera is not a big talker. She does not like to discuss her art and rarely gives interviews.

"My painting is just my painting. There is no feeling associated with it. It is not good for anything," she says with a laugh, refusing to explain what her work might mean.

Her husband, who died in 2000 at age 98, encouraged her to paint every day even though it seemed no one wanted to show her work-by a woman, a Latina woman at that, and not considered feminine, as watercolors might be.

"No one paid attention to me. No one knew me," Herrera says.

She recalls, angrily, a female gallery owner who once said this to her: "I love what you paint but I am not going to give you a chance because you are a woman." This was particularly hurtful to Herrera because it came from another woman.

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