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It was hard enough back in the mid-20th century for any female artist to succeed, but particularly one whose work was so defiantly unfeminine. “You were supposed to do maternity scenes or watercolours, but not something as tough and decisive as what you do,” [Herrera’s friend] Bechara says.
Herrera used to see Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir all the time at the Café de Flore. And she became friends with the parents of artist Yves Klein, both painters themselves. “They shared a studio, and they had an easel and one would paint on one side and the other would paint on the other side. His mother, Marie Raymond, was better than he was, and did better than him. They always used to talk about ‘Bébé’. We thought it was a little child until we met him. Yves was the only child. They said we have to go home to feed Bébé, and Bébé turns out to be a martial arts expert and painter in his 20s.”
Herrera returned to New York in the mid-50s and her work gradually became more minimalist: the voluptuous curves flattened into sharp lines that taper off to nothingness or stretch to infinity. She calls it a process of purification, trying to make her art ever more simple. “I never met a straight line I did not like,” she once said.