Carmen Herrera attended Marymount High School (Paris), the School of Architecture (Havana), and the Art Students League (New York). She began to develop her pictorial work in the 1930s, and in 1939 she moved to New York, where she met the exponents of Abstract Expressionism and practiced a lyric abstraction infused with surrealism. It was only when she moved to Paris, in 1948, that Herrara discovered a geometric-abstraction as her true métier. In the French capital, she frequented the group that met at the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles and participated in several of its editions. Her painting featured predominantly angular forms and transmitted a rhythmical and chromatic force. Soon she reduced her palette to black and white, and her she became a pioneer in the creation of Op Art. She presented her first solo exhibition at the Lyceum Lawn Tennis Club of Havana in 1951.
A precarious economic situation forced Herrara to return to Cuba and then to move to New York. Her abstract-geometric investigation that put her in the vanguard of Cuban art evolved in New York as she was influenced by American Color Field painting by such artists as Ellsworth Kelly and Frank Stella. It was in New York that her painting took on a chromatic intensity The forms in her paintings were radically simplified and soft-edged and they reached a high degree of purity and minimalist subtlety. This style she has continued to develop.
Forgotten by both the New York scene, to which she belonged since the 1960s, and the official artistic history of her native country, Herrera has been an occasional exhibitor with little commercial success for more than half a century. However, a sudden rediscovery of her work has placed her in the forefront of abstract-geometric art since the first decade of the 21st century, when important museums and private collections acquired several of her works. Since then, her exhibition activity has increased significantly. In 2010, she was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award in Visual Arts.