Irene Rice Pereira

Irene Rice Pereira, Untitled

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One of the early members of the American Abstract Artists group, Irene Rice Pereira’s work was significantly shaped by her efforts to merge machine-age materials with her artwork and ideas that technology, art, and philosophy could be brought together as a social function. Pereira strove to express the idea of infinity within the context of an increasingly dynamic scientific society. She articulated these philosophical theorems not only through her art but also through her writing, lectures, teaching, and poetry.

Born in 1902 in Chelsea, Massachusetts Irene Rice Pereira began studying art as a young girl, later attending the Art Students League in New York at night while she worked during the day to help support her family. Although she ultimately married three times, Pereira kept her first husband last name. Early in her career she adopted the gender ambiguous title of I. Rice Pereira in order to avoid the stigma of being a creative and working female. In addition to her artwork Pereira wrote extensively throughout her life, producing ten books of poems and essays. Near the end of her life she became Honorary Poet Laureate of the United Poets Laureate International, while in the United States she was recognized more for her lectures on artistic philosophy, especially those addressing structure, time, optics, and space.  Her travels in the 1930s to Europe and Northern Africa, particularly to the Sahara desert and Morocco, significantly influenced the development of the compositional style and aesthetic philosophy that would define her work as an artist, lecturer, and socio-political activist throughout her lifetime.

Pereira’s early works have at times been compared with the works of Charles Sheeler and Charles Demuth because of her focus on industry coupled with her fundamentally abstractionist compositions. However, hers is a comparison that may be over-simplified. Pereira's motivations for depicting industry, and the ultimate trajectory of her technical and aesthetic development are radically different from the precisionist methodologies employed by Sheeler and Demuth.  The early 1930s for Pereira were taken up with the incorporation and interpretation of industrial values, which were then sweeping the nation. As the decade progressed, Pereira's sympathies with the industrial movement shifted to the social plights facing the average American citizen. In he last years of the 1930s, Pereira focused on social realist painting.

In 1935 Pereira helped found, and became a faculty member of, the Design Laboratory, an industrial arts school in New York City. Her work began to incorporate the abstract synthesis of functionalism, and the avant-garde theory inspired by the artist Dessau Bauhaus. In the 1940s and 1950s, already known for her use of vibrant colors, interlocking forms, and flat palettes, Pereira gained new artistic insight and recognition for her unique technical manipulations of light on glass and parchment.  She had spent two years as a museum assistant at the Museum of Non-Objective Painting, where she experimented intensely with a variety of unconventional materials such as mica, string, toy parts, glyptal resin, sand, tape, wood, plastic, glass, trapezoidal canvas and parchment, box and electrified frames.  According to her writings, it was here that she began to believe that “symbols are essences of the properties of space.”1

Throughout the 1950s and 60s Pereira solidified her own voice both in her paintings and writings. Her abstractions of this period were a true reflection of her philosophical ideas combined with the technical mastery she had developed throughout her career. At the end of 1970, Pereira retired to Marbella, Spain where she died only a few weeks later in at the age of 69. A retrospective exhibition of Pereira’s work was held in 1953 at the Whitney Museum in New York City and her works are held by many museums including the Art Institute of Chicago, Smithsonian National Museum of American Art, Guggenheim, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Corcoran, and the Norton Museum of Art.

Written and compiled by Hali Thurber

1Irene Rice Pereira; The Official Site

Irene Rice Pereira, Pier
Irene Rice Pereira, Masts

1902 Born August 5th in Chelsea, MA to Emanuel and Hilda Rice
1927-1928 Studies with Richard Lahey at the Art Students League in New York
1929 Marries commercial artist Humberto Pereira
1929-1930 Studies with Jan Matulka at the Art Students League
1931 Three month trip to Europe, followed by one month in northern Africa
1933 First one-woman art show at the ACA Gallery, New York
1934 Works on Public Works of Art Project
1935 Joins the original faculty at the WPA/FAP Design Laboratory
1937 Lectures on "Art in Industry" at the Design Laboratory
1938 Divorces Humberto Pereira
1939 Begins her first glass painting
Resigns from the Laboratory school of industrial Design
1940 Begins work at Museum of Non-Objective Painting as museum assistant
1941 Sister, Dorothy Rice diagnosed with cancer in January, dies in September Museum of Modern Art acquires Exploration with a Pencil (1940) and Shadows with Painting (1940)
1942 Marries George Wellington Brown
Begins teaching at Pratt Institute
1943 Pereira diagnosed with cancer
Metropolitan Museum of Art acquires some of her paintings through the dissolution of the New York Art Project
1946 Wins $500 award at the Pepsi-Cola Third Annual Exhibition
1947 Listed in the Congressional Record for alleged Communist sympathies
1949 Representative Dondero introduces Pereira’s name into Congressional Record of alleged Communist sympathies
1950 Divorces George Brown
Sails to England to marry George Reavey
1951 Returns to the U.S.
Joins Durlacher Brothers Gallery
1952 First publication of Pereira's philosophy, "Light and the New Reality" in Pallette magazine Last paintings on parchment and glass
1953 Spends summer at the MacDowell Colony
1958 Joins Nordness Gallery in NY
1959 Elected Life Fellow, International Institute of Arts and Letters
 Divorces Reavey
1961 Leaves the Nordness Gallery; Joins Amel Gallery
1963 Joins Gallerie International, NY; Converts to Catholicism
1968 Hospitalized for several weeks due to sever breathing difficulties
Conferred as Honorary Poet Laureate of the United Poets Laureate
International, headquartered in the Philippines
1969 Honorary doctorate conferred by L'Université Libre in Pakistan and the
International Federation of Scientific Research Societies of Europe, Asia, Africa, and America
Severs connections with Kennedy Galleries
1970 Purchases apartment in Marbella Spain
Several stays in hospitals due to deteriorating health
Moves permanently to Marbella, Spain after being evicted from apartment in New York
1971 January 11th Pereira dies in Marbella, Spain

1933 American Contemporary Artists Gallery One Woman Show
Brooklyn Museum Annual Exhibition of Allied Artists of America
1934 ACA Gallery
Contemporary Arts
Whitney Museum of American Art Second Biennial Exhibition
Academy of Allied Arts Winter Exhibition
1935 ACA Gallery
Uptown Gallery of the Continental Club
WMAA Abstract Painting in America
Uptown Gallery of the Continental Club
Contemporary Arts at Park Lane Exhibition of watercolors and drawings
Brooklyn Museum Oil paintings by Living Artists
Art Institute of Chicago 46th Annual Exhibition of American Painting and Sculpture
Uptown gallery of the Continental Club
Roerich Museum
1936 Uptown Gallery of the Continental Club As the Artist Sees Himself
1937 Municipal Art Committee, City of New York 6th Annual Exhibition
East River Gallery
Artists' Gallery Christmas Show
American Artists' Congress An exhibition in Defense of World Democracy
1938 Howard University Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
WPA Art Project Show
American Artists Congress 2nd Annual Membership Exhibition
Laboratory School of Industrial Design Faculty Show
Springfield Museum of Fine Arts, MA Artists Union
ACA: American Artists Congress Second Annual 8"x10" Exhibition
1939 American Arts Congress Art in a Skyscraper
Federal Art Gallery WPA Easel Division
Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, MA The World of Today
1940 Museum of Non-Objective Painting Three American Non-Objective Painters    
Rockefeller Center United American Artists Annual Exhibition
New World's Fair Exhibition of WPA Art
Galerie St. Etienne American Abstract Artists, National Exhibition
Fine Arts Building American Abstract Artists, Fourth Annual Exhibition
Museum of Non-Objective Painting Art of Tomorrow
Museum of Non-Objective Painting 12 American Non-Objective Painters
1941 Riverside Museum American Abstract Artists Fifth Annual Exhibition
MMA Works in Use, WPA art allocated to public institutions
Museum of Non-Objective Painting
1942 Flint Institute of Arts and Cincinnati Modern Art Society
Fine Arts Galleries American Abstract Artists Sixth Annual Exhibition
1946 MoMA
1947 San Francisco Museum of Art
1949 Philips Academy, Andover, MA
Corcoran Gallery Bienniel (5 times)
1950 Santa Barbara Museum of Art
M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco
1953 WMAA Retrospective
San Francisco Museum of Art
1960 Rome-New York Art Foundation, Rome, Italy
1976 WMAA Retrospective

American Abstract Artists 1939
Artists Equity Association

Irene Rice Pereira, White Squares
Irene Rice Pereira, Geometric Composition
Irene Rice Pereira, Celestial Pole
Irene Rice Pereira, Untitled Abstraction
Irene Rice Pereira, Untitled
Irene Rice Pereira, Red Squares

Works by the artist may be found at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, National Gallery of Art, Addison Gallery of American Art at Phillips Academy, Brooklyn Museum, Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Walter Art Center in Minnesota.

John I.H. Baur. Loren MacIver, I. Rice Pereira.  The Macmillan Company, New York: 1953.

Karen A. Bearer. Irene Rice Pereira: Embarking on an Eastward Journey.  Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL (January 1, 1994).

Karen A. Bearer. Irene Rice Pereira:  Her Paintings and Philosophy.  University of Texas: 1993.

Kathleen Blackshear.  Abstract and Surrealist Art.  Bulletin of the American Art Institute of Chicago (1907-1951).  Vol. 41, No. 7 (Dec, 1947), pp. 86-90.

Merlin James. Abstraction in the Twentieth Century. New York. The Burlington Magazine. Vol. 138, No. 1119 (Jun., 1996), pp. 426-427.

Judith Van Wagner. I. Rice Pereira: Vision Superceding Style. Woman's Art Journal. Vol. 1, No. 1 (Spring - Summer, 1980), pp. 33-38.

Djelloul Marbrok. Irene Rice Pereira; The Official Site

Irene Rice Pereira. AskArt

Smithsonian American Art Museum.