The photo-essay Old Masters in the Sunday Times Health Magazine features luminaries 80 + years old who continue to be passionate about their work. “They reign. ” Each one embraces the continual process of learning and growing, while ignoring usual notions of what aging looks like.
Says 91 year-old artist Ellsworth Kelly: It’s one thing about getting older. You see more…Everyday I’m continuing to see things. That’s why there are new paintings.
The short interview with Cuban painter Carmen Herrera, 99, in her Manhattan studio is moving and powerful, as is the image of her working, above. Herrera sold her first painting at age 89; today her work is in the permanent collections at the Museum of Modern Art and the Tate Modern.
When did you start to have confidence in your work?
It all began in Paris in the late ’40s. I was then involved with the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles. I recall its director, Fredo Sidès, saying to me, ‘‘Madame, you have many beautiful paintings in this one work.’’ I thought about it and decided that he was right! So I started taking things out. And I have never stopped doing that.
You painted for decades, but didn’t sell your work until just 10 years ago. What kept you going?
I do it because I have to. I have my ideas. I do my drawings. I make my paintings. It’s my love of the straight line that keeps me going. This has not changed.
What was your reaction when you sold your first painting at 89?
I was never bitter. I always wished others well. I thought maybe the market would be corrupting. Without commercial success you can do what you want to do. There is freedom to be working alone. But, oh, when my work began to sell! I thought, Damn it, it’s about time!
At 99, how do you view your future?
I am always waiting to finish the next thing. Absurd, I know. I go day by day.
Intrigued and inspired, we looked for more of Herrera and found this, from an interview for Phaidon.
How do you get this stuff out?
You never get it out. It is always churning. It is a constant, continuous process. You finally say something, and then it just leads to more questions.
What brought you to this point?
Many years and many paintings. Each painting is the result of choices made. Each work is a series of paths not taken and paths taken.