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John Ferren

 (1905 - 1970)
John Millard Ferren was active/lived in New York, California, Oregon / France.  John Ferren is known for abstract expression, figure, still life.

John Ferren

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for John Ferren
Born in Pendleton, OR on Oct. 17, 1905, the son of an Army officer. Shortly after his birth, Ferren lived in various parts of the Northwest with his family. Several years were spent in San Francisco and Los Angeles where he graduated from Polytechnic High School. In 1925 he returned to San Francisco and studied briefly at the CSFA. While apprenticed to a local stone cutter, he began modeling portrait heads in clay and plasticene. During a trip to Europe he met artist Hans Hofmann who influenced him to become a painter. While in Paris he studied at Académies de la Grande Chaumière, Colarossi, and the Sorbonne, and had further study at the University of Florence. Returning to San Francisco in 1930, Ferren abandoned sculpture for painting. After 1933 his home was in New York; however, in 1947 he built a summer studio in Brentwood, CA and taught summer sessions at the Art Center School and UCLA. He died in East Hampton, NY on July 24, 1970. During his career he had about 40 solo exhibitions and participated in over 100 group shows including SFAA and LA AA annuals (1925-30); CPLH, 1931; Paris, New York, London, Chicago. In: Santa Barbara Museum; Crocker Museum (Sacramento); LACMA; Scripps College (Claremont); UC Art Museum (Berkeley); SFMA.

Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Interview with the artist or his/her family; Who's Who in American Art 1936-66.

Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

Biography from Mark Borghi Fine Art Inc
John Ferren was one of the few members of the American abstract artists to come to artistic maturity in Paris. A native of California, in 1924 Ferren went to work for a company that produced plaster sculpture.

He briefly attended art school in San Francisco. Later he served as an apprentice to a stonecutter. By 1929, Ferren had saved enough money to go to Europe, stopping first in New York where he saw the Gallatin Collection. He went to France and to Italy. In Saint-Tropez, he met Hans Hofmann, Vaclav Vytlacil, and other Hofmann students.

When Ferren stopped to visit them in Munich, he saw a Matisse exhibition, an experience that was instrumental in shifting his work from sculpture to painting. In Europe, Ferren did not pursue formal art studies, although he sat in on classes at the Sorbonne and attended informal drawing sessions at the Academie Ranson and the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere.

Instead, Ferren said, he "literally learned art around the cafe tables in Paris, knowing other artists and talking." After this initial year in Europe, Ferren returned to California. By 1931 he was again in Paris, where he lived for most of the next seven years. Surrounded by the Parisian avant-garde, Ferren wrestled with his own idiom. His diaries from these years indicate far-ranging explorations from a Hofmann-like concern for surface to the spiritual searches of Kandinsky and Mondrian.

Although Gallatin and Morris were the first Americans to buy his paintings, Ferren associated with members of the Abstraction-Creation group rather than with the American expatriate community. He married the daughter of a Spanish artist, Manuel Ortiz de Zarate. Through this union he met the circle of Parisian-Spanish painters that included Picasso, Miro , and Torres-Garcia. With Jean Helion, Ferren wrote manifestoes against Surrealism, although he remained friendly with Max Ernst and Andre Breton, and illustrated books by Surrealist poets.

In Paris, he met Pierre Matisse, who in 1936 hosted a show of Ferren's work at his New York gallery. Following his divorce in 1938, Ferren returned to the United States. He attended American Abstract Artist meetings, but felt little of the frustration that had prompted the organization's formation. After Ad Reinhardt used Ferren's name on a pamphlet passed out on the Museum of Modern Art picket line, Ferren broke from the group.

During World War II, Ferren served with the Office of War Information in the North African and European theaters. By this time, Ferren had reintroduced the figure into his paintings without giving up abstraction, and following the war he turned to Abstract Expressionism.

In moving from geometric abstraction to the academically based figure and still-life paintings he did after the war, and finally to the freely painted expressionist work of his later years, Ferren searched for a way to express moral truth. Throughout his life, he viewed painting as a means of seeking the reality behind appearance.

His early appreciation of Kandinsky and a fascination with Zen that dated from his youth helped define the way he thought about painting throughout his life. He called art the "great common denominator between knowledge and insight," and said it should explore the intuitive---the spiritual, mental, social or psychological forces of life.

Biography from Hollis Taggart Galleries
Biography photo for John Ferren
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.

© Copyright 2008 Hollis Taggart Galleries

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About  John Ferren

Born:  1905 - Pendleton, Oregon
Died:   1970 - Southampton, New York
Known for:  abstract expression, figure, still life

Essays referring to
John Ferren

Abstract Expressionism