By the time you’ve lived for nearly a century, you’d think that very little could surprise you. But for 98-year-old artist Luchita Hurtado, a recent turn of events has left her stunned.
“I still don’t believe it, to tell you the truth,” exclaimed Hurtado.
The Venezuelan-born painter, who’d lived under the radar for the first nine decades of her life, has been catapulted into the spotlight of the art world, thanks to an unexpected discovery. While working for the estate of Hurtado’s late husband, artist Lee Mullican, an art cataloguer named Ryan Good came across 1,200 mysterious pieces. The treasure trove of paintings didn’t appear to be works of Mullican, as each bore the initials “L.H.” In time, Good came to realize that the evocative, remarkably well-preserved canvasses he uncovered were those of Hurtado.
Fast-forward two years, and the previously under-the-radar talent has gained nearly instantaneous critical acclaim around the world, with her paintings exhibited in galleries in Los Angeles, New Mexico, Chicago and, most recently, at London’s Serpentine Sackler Gallery.
“I always worked,” Hurtado said in an interview. “But I never showed my work.”
“I think you were overlooked,” suggested Good. “You also said the same about Frida Kahlo.”
“Yes,” said Hurtado. “When they were alive, it was Diego Rivera who was the famous one.”
Today, the nearly centenarian remains incredulous of her overnight success. Having arrived in the U.S. as an immigrant at age 9, she worked as a fashion illustrator for Condé Nast and as a muralist for Lord & Taylor. But her art—that was something she kept personal, despite it being a passion she likened to “a need, like brushing your teeth.”
Hurtado’s impressive body of work, lauded in this review for its “indigenous patterns, stark Modernism, the surreal and the abstract—bound by a keen understanding of materials” feels contemporary, despite being created decades ago. In fact, upon viewing paintings displayed in the Hammer Gallery in L.A., one visitor remarked that, “There’s no way that a painter by the name of Luchita Hurtado could have possibly been born in 1920.”
“She has this completely spiritual energy,” noted gallerist Paul Soto, who showed Hurtado’s work in 2016. “Every time I’m with her I’m, like, ‘How can I be more like you?’”
This overwhelming zeal and sense of agelessness virtually radiate from the artist, perhaps now more than ever. She insists that the key to happiness is an attitude of joy. The electrifying Hurtado, named one of TIME’s Most Influential People of 2019, considers her body of work “the diary she’s leaving behind.”
When asked in an interview how she hopes to spend her 100th birthday, she replied without hesitation, “Dance! I know what I want to do—dance. A real fast rumba. And why not?! I wanna dance.”
Read more about Hurtado’s artwork and remarkable life here. To get an even richer sense of her singular personality, watch this video segment—where her infectious laughter paints the fuller picture of her contagious zest for life.