Born in 1902 near Boston, Irene Rice Pereira had a thirst for knowledge, and her interests stretched beyond art to include philosophy, physics, engineering, and psychology. A gifted artist, she studied in Paris from 1927–1930 with Richard Layey and Jan Matulka and attended the Académie Moderne there. Pereira’s art reflects a practical nature, heavily influenced by 20th century intellectual movements, emerging scientific developments, and an interest in new industrial materials. In the 1930s, Pereira designed and taught an art curriculum for the New York Laboratory School for Design under the auspices of the WPA Federal Art Project. Pereira required her students to take classes in chemistry, industrial mechanics, and optics—the physical study of light. Pereira modeled her program after the Bauhaus’s Vorkurs, an introductory art course taught by Josef Albers at the avant-garde German school. Pereira’s own work, more than many American artists, demonstrates the use in art of machine-made media and industrial technologies, an approach advocated by the Bauhaus artists in Germany.
The scientific and metaphysical properties of light remained a central theme in Pereira’s art throughout her career. Drawn to science, experimentation was also central to Pereira’s art. Over the course of her career she incorporated an unusual range of materials, including paints mixed with metal, glass, radium, and other new materials, into her compositions. Pereira would apply these paints to panels, and over them, she installed glass plates that she had also painted, establishing both transparency and depth. In the Phillips Collection work, Tranversion (1946), Pereira used pigmented ceramic fluids and porcelain cement as her ‘paint’ on a bottom panel of masonite, over which she placed two planes of corrugated glass. This arrangement allows the viewer to look through shifting facets of color, created by the corrugated surfaces, to the bottom plane.
Pereira continued to work in this abstract vein throughout her career. Also an accomplished writer, Pereira’s discourses on aesthetics reflected her personal experiences as a woman and an artist, as well her explorations of Eastern and Western philosophy, quantum physics, and metaphysical topics. Until her death in 1971, she lived in New York City, but her work has been exhibited internationally.