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John Ferren

Untitled Abstract, 1952

John Ferren (1905 – 1970)

Born in Pendleton, Oregon, in 1905, and raised in California, John Ferren briefly attended art school in San Francisco. While serving as an apprentice to an Italian stonecutter, he began sculpting portrait heads in clay.

In 1929 he traveled to Europe, where he took classes in several cities and spent time in cafes meeting and talking with other artists. Encounters with Hans Hofmann, Vaclav Vytlacil and other artists in Saint-Tropez and Munich, as well as with the work of Matisse, led Ferren to switch from sculpture to painting.

After a year, Ferren returned to California for his first one-man exhibition at the Art Center in San Francisco, but he soon went back to Paris, where he stayed for most of the 1930s. Ferren preferred not to move in American expatriate circles. Instead, he was befriended by Picasso and exhibited with members of the Abstraction-Création artist group, which included Georges Vantongerloo, Naum Gabo, Kandinsky, and Mondrian. After his brief marriage to the daughter of a Spanish painter ended in 1938, Ferren returned to the United States and settled permanently in New York. After 1947, he spent summers teaching in California.

Ferren embraced different styles throughout his career. The geometric abstractions of the 1930s gave way to figure studies and still lifes immediately after World War II, during which Ferren served in Europe and North Africa. He later won acclaim for an exuberant abstract expressionist style. Ferren died in Southampton, New York, in 1970.

Biography from the Archives of AskART