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Joan Pereira: The Provincetown Painter

by Rebecca M. Alvin

There’s something about looking at a Provincetown street scene without any people in it. The absence of the human or even animal form creates a portrait of the structure that underlies the town and is just as full of life when rendered on the canvas of Joan Pereira. It’s not that the 90-year-old artist hasn’t painted people (and animals). In fact, she has a large body of portraits out there in the world, along with all kinds of paintings, pastels, and charcoal drawings.

Her show at Kobalt Gallery opening this Friday features interiors as well, including barflies at the Old Colony Tap and folks at the soup kitchen. But the bulk of this week’s show includes medium-sized paintings that reveal Pereira’s great skill with street scenes and landscapes and also her eye, which has seen the town from every angle in the 64 years since she first arrived.

Joan Pereira, Old Colony

When she looks back and describes her development as an artist, there is a subtle joy in her eyes. She won a contest in the fifth grade in Albany, New York, where she grew up. The contest was to paint a flower and her award included acceptance to the Albany Institute of History and Art. Eventually, she made her way to Provincetown with an art teacher and critic she knew from Albany.

“At that time this was like a European village,” she recalls. She ended up marrying a Portuguese pilot who lived on Mechanic Street and says it was rough getting used to the Portuguese way of life at first. “I couldn’t understand the Portuguese philosophy. I mean, I was raised in a big city. All of a sudden I was back in time in another country,” she laughs.

Joan Pereira, Philip Malicoat

But she soon fell in with the artists in town who, at the time were so numerous they nearly outnumbered the non-artists. Perhaps that is an exaggeration, but Pereira met and studied with many of the heavyweights of the Provincetown art canon, including Philip Malicoat, Henry Hensche, Edwin Dickinson, Jim Forsberg, and Bruce McKain. She says she learned different things from every one of them.

She fondly remembers the time as one of great creativity and camaraderie, with no issues of sexism between male and female artists, although issues about how best to approach painting could be argued vigorously. Pereira spent six years studying with Hensche, but then moved away from his approach.

Joan Pereira, Red, White, and Blue

“Bruce McKain and I would go out painting. He was a marvelous landscape painter. I had the car and he didn’t have a car, so twice a week we’d go and do studies of this place and that place, and he was very vociferous about what he was doing and what I was doing,” she explains. “[McKain] taught me how to do landscape, unlike Henry. Henry had this formula about color, and it wasn’t even the proper formula, because I studied that with Forsberg, who was [Hans] Hofmann’s disciple, and he taught me all about color forms and how to manipulate and maneuver the surface of the painting. So anyway, I have the equivalent of two or three doctorates,” she says laughing. “Really, I studied for years and years and years with these people. It was incredible that I found myself in this situation.”

Pereira went on to become a founding member of the Provincetown Group Gallery, a noncommercial, year-round gallery, in 1964, and then was one of the pilot members of the Fine Arts Work Center when it formed in 1968—the only woman of that first group. She later formed the Truro Group with Ed Yacanetti, but rarely shows with them now. In addition, she has taught at Castle Hill Center for the Arts in Truro for many years and also at the Cape Cod Conservatory.

Joan Pereira,West End Bound

The art scene today doesn’t interest her as much.  “What I see today I think is a bunch of bullsh*t,” she says emphatically. “People don’t know how to draw, which is very important. They don’t know how to maneuver space—not only with value, but with color.”

What she does love is painting, something she says she has structured her whole life around. She paints nearly every day, even now, as she recovers from a broken hip and shoulder obtained last autumn in a bad fall.

“If you really know what you’re doing, it’s absolutely exciting. It’s like you’re a god; you’ve made the world over,” she marvels. As accomplished as Pereira clearly is, she still finds joy in the work. “It’s great fun,” she says with a sparkle in her eye. Each painting brings her a joy she describes as “like I’ve just had another child. When it talks back to me, I know that it’s right. But then I have to know enough to make it talk back to me.”

Guest artist Joan Pereira’s exhibition Local Color will be on view on both levels at Kobalt Gallery 366 Commercial St., Provincetown, September 1 – 7. There will be an opening reception on Friday, September 1, 7 – 9 p.m. For more information call 508.487.1132 or visit

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Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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