William Perehudoff | A Retrospective


Info: William Perehudoff | A Retrospective, Oct 22 - Nov 21, 2015


NEW YORK, NEW YORK, October 22, 2015 – Berry Campbell is pleased to continue its fall season exhibition with a retrospective by Canadian Color Field painter, William Perehudoff (1918-2013).  This important exhibition will feature over twenty paintings and works on paper from all decades of Perehudoff’s career.  The show opens on October 22 and runs through November 21, 2015 with an opening reception on Thursday, October 22 from 6 to 8 pm. Berry Campbell will present the retrospective in a sixteen-page catalogue featuring an essay by Lisa N. Peters, Ph.D.

The art historian Karen Wilkin has observed an Apollonian/Dionysian opposition in Perehudoff’s work, reflected in his tendency toward the harmonious and rational that he then had the courage to subvert with “seductive, syncopated color.”1 Many of his paintings evoke musical harmonies and reverberations, while they are suggestive of light flowing across the open Canadian plains. Recalled in 2013 by Timothy Long, head curator of Saskatchewan’s Norman MacKenzie Art Gallery, as “one of the greatest colorists this province and Canada has produced,” Perehudoff was a friend of and is regarded as the heir to Jack Bush, as Canada’s most important Color Field painter.2 Perehudoff’s diverse art, both vibrant and cerebral, continues to influence a younger generation of artists.3  

Throughout his life, the Canadian painter William Perehudoff maintained a close connection with the countryside of Saskatchewan, Canada, where he grew up and established his studio.4 His art developed from his personal response to the light and color of the Canadian prairie as well as from historical art and theory. At the same time, his work reflected the present, expressing the literalist perspective of the Color Field movement, epitomized by the idea that the force of painting must reside in its materials.

The eldest of four children, Perehudoff was born in 1918 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and raised in the Russian Doukhobor colony in rural Bogdanovka, twenty-five miles northwest of Saskatoon. His parents, who emigrated from Russia in 1899, were part of a wave of spiritual pacifists, who left their homeland to escape from Czarist persecution. By the time he was in his early twenties, Perehudoff had begun to paint, receiving advice from local artists, including Ernest Lindner, known for high-keyed, sharply focused watercolors of the Saskatchewan landscape.

Perehudoff’s first recognition from the press occurred in 1945, when the Saskatoon Star Phoenix described him as one of the most promising artists in the Saskatoon Art Center’s fall exhibition. Having developed a fascination on his own for the art of the Mexican muralists, in the summer of 1948, Perehudoff sought instruction at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center with Jean Charlot. From Charlot, Perehudoff learned the age-old technique of fresco painting and developed social realist imagery rendered in the monumental and reductive style of Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco. In 1949, he began what would be a long association with Fred Mendel, the owner of International Packers Ltd., one of Saskatoon’s largest employers, and an art collector who would establish a museum in 1964. Perehudoff created murals (ca. 1949) for Mendel’s business and home, portraying figures with a Baroque muscularity paralleling the style of Thomas Hart Benton.

In 1950, Perehudoff was featured in his first solo exhibition, held at the Saskatoon Art Center. In the fall of that year, he arranged to study with the German figurative painter Max Beckmann in New York. When this plan was precluded by Beckmann’s death, he instead enrolled in the Ozenfant School of Fine Arts, New York. There he worked under the French Purist Amédée Ozenfant, who emphasized relationships of art to architecture in color and form. After a brief return to his family’s farm, Perehudoff traveled to Europe, spending time in Paris and London. In London, he joined fellow Saskatchewan artist Dorothy Knowles. The two were married in Paris within the year and traveled through France and Italy during 1952. The couple settled in Saskatoon but continued to work on the Perehudoff family farm. Perehudoff and Knowles would have three daughters. With a family to support, in 1954, Perehudoff accepted a full-time job as an artist-designer at the Modern Press, a publishing firm in Saskatoon. His art from that time consisted of abstract paintings with thickly impastoed surfaces, along with representational, modernist-inspired murals.

Perehudoff was aware on his own of currents in contemporary abstract painting in the 1950s. His contact with some of the leading figures in the field occurred during his participation in the summer artist workshops held on the shores of Emma Lake in Saskatchewan, beginning in 1955. In the summer of 1957, he participated in the third summer artist-workshop, led by Will Barnet, who at the time was painting abstractly. Perehudoff attended most of the Emma Lake workshops in the following summers, including those led by New York artists Anthony Caro, Herman Cherry, Donald Judd, and Kenneth Noland, and Clement Greenberg, the art critic and champion of Post-Painterly Abstraction. Perehudoff developed close relationships with many of these guests, most notably Noland and Greenberg. He also became a great friend of Jules Olitski, who led the workshop in 1964—the two artists visited each other at their respective homes. Cherry’s workshop in August of 1961 was especially influential. In the 1960s, Perehudoff thinned his paint and began staining his canvases, layering his surfaces with large abstracted shapes. The Canadian art critic Jean Swanson remarked in 1961: “[Bill] suddenly developed a new way to express his responses to the world.”5

From the 1960s until the end of his career, Perehudoff created works in the Color Field aesthetic, with which he sought a means of expression based exclusively on the language of color and form. Although his progression was not linear, he developed generally from a concern with all-overness of unified figure and ground to geometric forms that are both embedded in and break the surface. The movement toward separation culminated in his floating, ethereal Amyot and Andante paintings of the mid-1970s. He commented that the luminous, unstable fields and panoramic views of the British landscape painter J. M. W. Turner (1775–1851) informed the long horizontal format of these works. His study of Johann Goethe’s (1749–1832) color theories, in part, resulted in his thin, glowing fields, consisting of overlapping thickly applied brilliant colors.6 When the paint industry expanded the capacities of acrylic paint with new additives and mediums, Perehudoff incorporated these means into his process—as did his friends Noland and Olitski. The new physicality can be seen in the orb-like forms of his paintings of the 1980s, in which the difference between the illusory and actual surface is elusive. In the 1990s, he returned to a greater lucidity, like that in his earlier rectangles and bars, the geometric planes recalling Russian Constructivism.

Throughout his career, Perehudoff received accolades in commissions, exhibitions, and awards. In 1965, he had a one-man show at the newly opened Mendel Art Gallery. Three years later, he became the first Saskatchewan artist to be appointed associate of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. He had a number of solo exhibitions in the early 1970s, including shows at the Edmonton Art Gallery in 1972, the University of Saskatchewan, the Waddington Galleries in Montreal, and Noah Goldowsky Gallery in New York, in 1974. In 1976, shows of his work were held at Noah Goldowsky in New York, and Waddington Galleries in London. In the following year, he was included in 14 Canadians, held at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. Other exhibitions at the end of the decade include shows at Noah Goldowsky in New York, and Waddington Galleries in London, in 1976; the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina, Saskatchewan, in 1978; and Meredith Long Contemporary in New York, in 1980. In 1981, a ten-year retrospective of his art, 1970–1980—organized by the Mendel Art Gallery—traveled to a number of other venues. In 1987, he was invited to participate in the Triangle Workshop, begun in 1982 by art collector Robert Loder and Caro “to counterbalance the tendency of the Western art world to put the emphasis on the object and its marketing rather than on the creative process itself.” Perehudoff continued to receive several honors in the 1990s and 2000s. He was given the Canada 125 Commemorative Medal in 1993, the Member of the Order of Canada in 1999, an honorary Doctor of Laws by the University of Regina in 2003, and the Saskatchewan Centennial Medal in 2005. In 2008, the Poussin Gallery in London held an exhibition showcasing paintings created by Perehudoff from 1977 to 1997. In 2010, a large exhibition of his work, The Optimism of Colour, was organized by Mendel Art Gallery and again traveled to various other museums. Its catalogue, in French and English, included essays by Karen Wilkin, Roald Nasgaard, and Robert Christie. Perehudoff continued to farm and paint until close to the time of his death at age 94 in 2013.

Berry Campbell continues to fill an important gap in the downtown art world, showcasing the work of prominent and mid-career artists in the modernist tradition. The owners, Christine Berry and Martha Campbell, share a curatorial vision of bringing new attention to the works of a selection of postwar and contemporary artists and revealing how these artists have advanced ideas and lessons in powerful and new directions.  Other artists and estates represented by the gallery are Edward Avedisian, Walter Darby Bannard, Stanley Boxer, Eric Dever, Perle Fine, Balcomb Greene, Gertrude Greene, John Goodyear, Ken Greenleaf, Raymond Hendler, Jill Nathanson, Stephen Pace, Charlotte Park, William Perehudoff, Ann Purcell, Albert Stadler, Mike Solomon, Syd Solomon, Susan Vecsey, James Walsh, and Joyce Weinstein.

Berry Campbell Gallery is located in the heart of the Chelsea Arts District at 530 West 24th Street, Ground Floor, New York, NY 10011. www.berrycampbell.com. For information, please contact Christine Berry or Martha Campbell at 212.924.2178 or info@berrycampbell.com.

1. Scholarship on the work of Perehudoff is indebted to Karen Wilkin, Roald Nasgaard, and Robert Christie, The Optimism of Colour: William Perehudoff, a Retrospective (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan: Mendel Art Gallery, 2010), and Nancy Tousley, William Perehudoff (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan: Mendel Art Gallery, 1993), p. 22.
2.  “William Perehudoff, 94, a Saskatchewan artist who built a national reputation,” The Globe and Mail (Saskatoon), March 13, 2013.
3.  On Perehudoff’s influence, see Robert Christie, “Lessons from Bill,” in Wilkin, Nasgaard, and Christie, pp. 95–102.
4.  Karen Wilkin, “William Perehudoff: The Evolution of an Artist,” in Wilkin, Nasgaard, and Christie, pp. 22-25.
5. Jean Swanson, “History of a One-Man Show: Some remarks about Bill Perehudoff,” Saskatoon Star Phoenix, October 1, 1961.
6.  Karen Wilkin, “William Perehudoff: The Evolution of an Artist,” in Wilkin, Nasgaard, and Christie, p. 25.