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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 to an Italian stonecutter and in 1926 he began to sculpt portrait busts. Ferren visited Europe for the first time in 1929. With Hans Hofmann he attended a Matisse exhibition in Munich that so excited his interest in color that he abandoned sculpture for painting. The following year Ferren’s first one-man exhibition was held at the Art Center in San Francisco.
Ferren returned in 1931 to Paris, where he remained until 1938. He soon achieved recognition as an abstract artist and befriended many of the artists working in that city, including Picasso, Miró, Mondrian and Hélion. Ferren frequented the 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 Hayter at his Atelier 17. In 1936 Pierre Loeb gave Ferren his first solo exhibition in Paris, followed by one-man shows at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York.
Ferren’s painting career was interrupted by 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 one-man show of his work each year from 1954 to 1958. The artist participated in the Carnegie International, Pittsburgh, in 1955. In 1961 Ferren was included in the Guggenheim Museum’s Abstract Expressionists and Imagists. He was the first recipient of an American Specialists Abroad Grant awarded by the United States State Department; this allowed him to spend 1963-64 lecturing on contemporary American art in Beirut and elsewhere in the Middle East, Pakistan and India. Ferren died on July 24, 1970, in East Hampton, New York.