Oil on canvas
24.375 x 38 x 1.25 in.
Gift of the Marie Eccles Caine Foundation
The airy fluidity of this untitled painting is typical of John Ferren’s unique and enduring style. He painted this work in Paris as a twenty-nine-year-old American expatriate. The painting’s open spaces and spinning forms speak of a new, twentieth-century sensibility. Artists around the globe depicted forms in motion, not to convey random action but in response to the new views of the universe revealed by modern physics.
Ferren was born in Pendleton, Oregon, in 1905 and grew up in San Francisco and Los Angeles. A friend of writers Kenneth Rexroth and Henry Miller, he studied art and literature but was a restless student. He sampled the teaching of Hans Hofmann in Munich and several Parisian academies before settling into his own studio practice in Paris from 1931 to 1938. American artists in Paris often stopped to see Ferren in his studio. Such a visit from New Yorker A. E. Gallatin led to his participation in Five Contemporary American Concretionists: Biederman, Calder, Ferren, Morris, and Shaw, a landmark 1936 show that traveled from New York to London and Paris.
The pictorial dynamism of Untitled (1934) can fairly be compared to the oscillating spatiality of Alexander Calder’s mobiles of this same period. The two Americans were stars of their generation in New York and Paris in the 1930s and shared the same dealer, Pierre Matisse. Ferren built on the free and open structure of his work to exhibit among the artists of the New York School. He returned to California in 1947, collaborating with Alfred Hitchcock on several films, among them Vertigo, and spent his final years in Easthampton, New York. John Ferren occupies a prominent place in any history of American modernism of the 1930s.
Susan C. Larsen
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