19 February 2020

Irene Rice Pereira: Vacillating Progression

"We don't see things as they are,
we see them as we are." - Anais Nin

"...these canvases will tell you what I cannot say in words," - Vincent van Gogh in a letter to Theo van Gogh and Jo van Gogh-Bonger, July 10, 1890

So here I am using words to suggest that when we think we don't understand a work of art it is because we don't have ready language to describe it.  Naming, describing, and possessing get all tangled up  and can distract us from experiencing the art work by seeing it.  Information is not experience although it can add to the our experience.

Vacillating Progression (1949) is Irene Rice Pereira's finest work, a singular gem, and I use the term advisedly because it works in three dimensions. Constructed of  smooth and corrugated glass painted with oil and plastic paint,  the undulating glass surface allows the viewer to see the pattern move as if under water.

When she began exhibiting her work under the name I. Rice Pereira, viewers assumed that the artist was male.   Pereira had an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1946,  among the first women to have solo exhibitions in highly visible New York City museums, along with Georgia O'Keeffe and Loren MacIver. Although her works were abstract, she was never accepted by the predominantly male Abstract Expressionists who disdained both the work and the assertive personality of the artist herself.

I cannot give you the experience of this kinetic artwork but I can give you encouragement to seek it out in person and to see more work by the sui generis Irene Rice Pereira.

Pereira was born Irene Rice in Chelsea< Massachusetts in 1902, the eldest of five children.  After her father's death in 1918, the family moved to Brooklyn and Irene began working as a stenographer to support her siblings.  At the same time she began taking courses at the Art Students League in 1927.  By 1931, she had saved enough money to travel to Europe where she studied the primitive Renaissance masters of Italy and  to North Africa where the quality of the light and the expanse of the Sahara inspired an almost mystical reverence for light that is embodied in Vacillating Progression

Image: Irene Rice Pereira (1905-1971) - Vacillating Progression, 1949, oil & plastic paints on undulating glass, Munson Williams Proctor Art Institute, Utica, NY.

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