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John Ferren was born in Pendleton, Oregon, on October 17, 1905. He grew up in California and worked briefly as an engineer before turning his attention to art. He apprenticed with an Italian stonecutter and in 1926 began to sculpt portrait busts. Ferren visited Europe for the first time in 1929. Together with Hans Hofmann he attended a Henri Matisse exhibition in Munich that so stimulated his interest in color that he abandoned sculpture for painting. The following year Ferren’s first solo exhibition was held at the Art Center in San Francisco.
Ferren traveled to Paris in 1931, where he stayed until 1938. He soon achieved recognition as an abstract painter and befriended many of the artists working in Paris, including Jean Hélion, Joan Miró, Piet Mondrian, and Pablo Picasso. Ferren frequented Parisian art academies and studied at the Sorbonne and other European universities. His first group show in Paris was held in 1932 at the Galerie Zak. He showed regularly with the Abstraction-Création group and Le Groupe d’artistes anglo-américains. Ferren studied printmaking with Stanley Wiliam Hayter at his Atelier 17. In 1936 Pierre Loeb gave Ferren his first solo exhibition in Paris, followed by others at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York.
Ferren’s painting career was interrupted during his four years of service in the Office of War Information, which took him to North Africa and Europe. Upon his release from the army in 1946, he took a teaching position at the Brooklyn Museum Art School, at Cooper Union and at Queens College. Ferren was a member of The Club, an informal group that constituted the social and intellectual center of the New York School of Abstract Expressionists. He became president of The Club in 1955. The Stable Gallery in New York held a solo show of his work each year from 1954 to 1958. In 1955 he participated in the Carnegie International, Pittsburgh. In 1961 Ferren was included in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s Abstract Expressionists and Imagists exhibition. He was the first recipient of an American Specialists Abroad Grant awarded by the United States State Department, which allowed him to lecture on contemporary American art in Beirut and elsewhere in the Middle East, Pakistan, and India, between 1963 and 1964. Ferren died on July 24, 1970, in East Hampton, New York.