John Ferren


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Painter and sculptor. An abstract painter remembered for exquisite chromatic effects, he was born in Pendleton, Oregon, grew up in California, and worked first as a sculptor. During a year in Europe in 1929, he began to paint, inspired by the example of Matisse and encouraged by Hans Hofmann. After a return to California, he lived in Paris between 1931 and 1939 (except for a year in 1932–33 on Majorca). There his mature work evolved as Ferren became personally acquainted with many of the leading modernists whose work he admired, including Picasso, Miró, and Kandinsky. In Kandinsky's writings, he found confirmation of his own beliefs in the expressive power of abstract form, in the psychological effects of color, and in the spiritual mission of art. In the early 1930s, Ferren painted lusciously colored, cubist-derived arrangements of abstract shapes and lines. Soon he developed a poetic response to Kandinsky's work in paintings featuring a vocabulary of floating arcs, planes, and lines but treated with a lightness and freedom not generally associated with Kandinsky's severe contemporaneous work. Shortly, Ferren developed a more original approach, deploying warped planes in complex and colorful arrangements, as in Composition on Green (Whitney Museum, 1936). Between 1935 and 1938, he also produced more than fifty colored plaster reliefs, made by pouring plaster onto a metal intaglio plate, then working the surface of this “print” after the plaster had hardened. The series grew out of an experimental printmaking technique he encountered at Atelier 17. After Ferren's return to New York, he exhibited with the American Abstract Artists and soon developed a looser form of colorful abstraction, related to abstract expressionism. During World War II he served in the publications office of a military psychological operation. From the late 1950s into the early 1960s, in particularly engaging, freshly sparkling large paintings, he applied extemporaneous gestural passages on top of geometrically organized hues. He died at a hospital in Southampton, not far from his home in East Hampton, on Long Island. His widow, Rae Ferren (1929– ), paints vivid landscapes and flowers, sometimes in semi-abstract arrangements, with colorful, painterly flair. Staying on in East Hampton after his death, she served as a curator at the Guild Hall Museum there for some years. Born in Brooklyn, Rae Tonkel studied before marriage in 1949 at the Brooklyn Museum's school.

Subjects: Art.

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