John Ferren (1905 – 1970) was born in Pendleton, Oregon. He moved to San Francisco in 1925 and studied briefly at the California School of Fine Arts (now known as San Francisco Art Institute). Ferren was largely self-taught, although he later took classes at the Sorbonne, Académie de la Grande Chaumière, and Académie Ranson. According to Ferren, his real education came in and around cafes and studios in Paris, where he primarily lived between 1931 – 1938.
Importantly, Ferren was one of few artists of the New York School to have first been ensconced in the Parisian prewar artistic community and the circle of Gertrude Stein. He was respected by his fellow artists in a manner that many Americans were not, even earning inclusion in Stein’s Everybody’s Autobiography, in which she states, “Ferren ought to be a man who is interesting, he is the only American painter [that] foreign painters in Paris consider as a painter, and whose painting interests them…”
Upon returning to the United States in 1938, Ferren started attending American Abstract Artist meetings. However, he did not share the frustrations upon which the group had been founded – that abstract art was not being supported enough by galleries and museums. Indeed, by 1940 Ferren had received one-man shows at Pierre Matisse Gallery, Minneapolis Art Institute, Arts Club (Chicago), San Francisco Museum of Art, and Corcoran Gallery, among others. In 1940, when George L. K. Morris attached Ferren’s name without permission to a MoMA protest flier, Ferren emphatically terminated any association with the group, having never officially been a member.
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 representation into his paintings without giving up abstraction. It wasn’t until the end of WWII that he turned to Abstract Expressionism.
In 1946, Ferren moved to a loft at 52 East 9th Street and began his association with the artists that would become the New York School. During this period, the Cedar Street Tavern, the Waldorf Cafeteria, and the 8th Street Club became the new “cafes” of Ferren’s development as an artist.
In 1959, Ferren and fellow painter Willem de Kooning settled in adjacent houses in Springs, a hamlet in the town of East Hampton, which was also home to Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner. The area, known in art circles as the cradle of the Abstract Expressionist movement, provided Ferren with a fertile environment in which he created many of the paintings included in this exhibition.