Artist Spotlight: John Ferren

September 20, 2018

As a young man, American abstract painter John Ferren studied under an Italian stonecutter in San Francisco. By 1929 he had grown restless in the then-stagnant West Coast art scene and so embarked on a tour of France and Italy to further enrich his practice.

John Ferren, portrait of the artist
September 30, 2018 Modern Art & Design Auction

Though briefly returning to the States in 1930, Ferren became one of the few early American abstractionists to gain real traction in Paris.  He attended several classes at the Sorbonne, the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, and the Académie Ranson, but resisted any formal course of training, saying that he “literally learned art around the café tables in Paris, knowing other artists and talking” extensively with them. Instead of immersing himself in the American expatriate art community, Ferren associated with the Abstraction-Création, a loose coalition of French and Spanish artists who combated the growing popularity of Surrealism. He soon began working with William Stanley Hayter’s Parisian Atelier 17, a print making workshop where artists such as Joan Miró, Marc Chagall, and Marcel Duchamp had gone to learn new techniques. During his stay in Europe, Ferren experienced firsthand the dynamism of the many interacting movements that defined pre-WWII art.

John Ferren, Source Fiesta, 1949
September 30, 2018 Modern Art & Design Auction

Following the war, Ferren quickly established himself as leading voice amongst New York Abstract Expressionists. In 1955 he served as president of The Club, an organization comprised of some of the leading Abstract Expressionist artists of the day. Unlike other major players of the movement, however, Ferren was “unwilling to rely on formalist rigidity.” It was at this point that he began exploring the Taoist and Zen Buddhist ideas that increasingly prompted his study of unity through form. His works freely incorporated figurative elements, geometric abstraction, and an often sculptural quality that stemmed from his earliest training.  

John Ferren, Untitled, 1960
September 30, 2018 Modern Art & Design Auction

Disregarding the restraints of post-war painting’s common stylistic adherence, Ferren’s works remained “eclectic and wide ranging.” Together, Source Fiesta (1949), Untitled (1960), and his collection of four drawings provide a small sample of the vast diversity in Ferren’s repertoire. The six pieces were originally gifts from Ferren to his neighbors, Edward and Josefa Kaminski, who were themselves artists.

John Ferren, Drawings (4), 1954-56
September 30, 2018 Modern Art & Design Auction


“John Ferren (1905–1970).” Edited by Ruth R. Perlin, American Art at The Phillips Collection, The Phillips Collection, 2005,
John Ferren. Smithsonian American Art Museum,


Lot 82
John Ferren
Oil on canvas
Signed lower right; signed, dated, and inscribed “To the Karen and Sandy Kaminskis” canvas verso
Canvas (vis.): 23.635″ x 15.75″; Frame: 24.25″ x 16.25″

Together with photograph of the artist


Lot 83
John Ferren
Source Fiesta
Oil on canvas
Initialed upper left canvas; signed, titled, and dated canvas verso
Canvas (vis.): 35.875″ x 47.5″; Frame: 37.125″ x 48.875″

Together with photograph of the artist

Estimate: $4,000 – $6,000

September 30, 2018 Modern Art & Design Auction

Lot 84
John Ferren
Drawings (4)
Comprised of A: Profile of a Woman; B: Untitled (Abstraction); C: Untitled (Face); D: Untitled
1954-56 (one not dated)
A: Pastel and ink on paper mounted to board; B: Gouache and acrylic on paper; C: Ink on paper; D: Gouache on board
B, C: Signed and dated lower right; D: Signed and dated board verso
A: Sheet: 25.875″ x 19.75″; Board (vis.): 26.375″ x 20.125″; Frame: 35.25″ x 29.375″; B, C: Sheet: 24″ x 18″; D: Board: 20″ x 29.75″

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