Irene Rice Pereira was born in Boston in 1902. In 1922 she moved to Brooklyn, New York, with her family. In 1926, she enrolled in art classes at Manhattan’s Washington Irving High School. In 1927, at the age of twenty-five, she began taking night classes at the Art Students League. She studied with Jan Matulka, who introduced his students to the European avant-garde, particularly Cubism and Constructivism. Pereira was thus exposed to the work of Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso and was encouraged to experiment with Cubist abstraction. In 1931, Pereira left New York for Paris and studied briefly at the Académie Moderne before traveling throughout Europe and visiting several African countries.

After returning to New York in 1933, Pereira had her first solo exhibition at the American Contemporary Art Gallery (now ACA Gallery) and went on to become a member of the fine-arts faculty at the Works Progress Administration Design Laboratory. As a teacher, Pereira championed the interdisciplinary study of art and science, modeling her program on László Moholy-Nagy’s machine and technology-oriented curriculum at the Bauhaus in Dessau, Germany. Pereira’s work from this period demonstrates her interest in a modern, clean-lined aesthetic and new, industrially-produced materials, such as metal and glass. Philosophy, psychology, and theories of perception were equally influential, and works such as Reflection (1943) exemplify her investigations of light, reflection, and depth through geometric abstraction.

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Pereira became a central figure among New York-based abstract artists. From 1940 to 1942, she worked at the Museum of Non-Objective Painting (now Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum) as a museum assistant. In addition to continuing her prolific work as an educator and lecturing at numerous universities and art museums, Pereira was honored with many shows at major local museums, including the Museum of Non-Objective Painting. Pereira’s art was included in the groundbreaking 31 Women exhibition, at Peggy Guggenheim’s museum-gallery Art of This Century, in 1943; in a major two-person retrospective with Loren MacIver at the Whitney Museum of American Art, in 1953; and in a solo retrospective at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., in 1954. Pereira continued to live and work in New York during the 1950s and 1960s and went on to publish a number of writings concerning her ideas on light, space, and vision. At the end of 1970, Pereira left New York for Marbella, Spain. Rice Pereira died in Marbella in 1971.