Robert Perine, 81; Helped Open Art School Based on the Chouinard Institute

Times Staff Writer

Robert Perine, a painter, graphic designer, writer, educator and publisher of art books who spearheaded the creation of an art school based on Los Angeles’ historic Chouinard Art Institute, which helped shape Southern California Modernism, has died. He was 81.

Perine died Saturday in Pasadena of unspecified causes.

A graduate of Chouinard who later taught there, Perine in 1985 wrote and published a historic account of the freewheeling art school’s development and transformation into the Disney-financed CalArts in Valencia. The title of his book summed up his opinion: “Chouinard: An Art Vision Betrayed.”

A dozen years after the book renewed interest in the creative school, Perine and Dave Tourje co-founded the Chouinard Foundation. An artist and contractor, Tourje had sought out Perine after unknowingly purchasing the fixer-upper home of the school’s founder, the late Nelbert Murphy Chouinard. Together, Perine and Tourje started a newsletter, staged exhibitions and held auctions to raise funds for a revamped Chouinard, which first welcomed students last year.


The original school founded by Chouinard, a World War I widow, had existed from 1921 until 1972, spinning out such creative threads of the Southern California tapestry as painter Millard Sheets, architects Richard Neutra and Rudolf Schindler, Disney animator Marc Davis and costume designer Edith Head.

But with a founder more interested in fostering artistic creativity than managing finances, the school fell into debt, helped along by embezzling bookkeepers. Walt Disney, who sent his animators there for training, stepped in to pay the debts. To the chagrin of loyalists, he also reconstituted Chouinard as the California Institute of the Arts -- CalArts -- in newly built quarters in Valencia and left the old campus, name and faculty behind.

Perine and Tourje’s revival plans first earned widespread attention in 2001, when they arranged a three-part exhibition by Chouinard alumni at the Oceanside Museum of Art, Palomar College’s Boehm Gallery in San Marcos and Mira Costa College’s Kruglak Gallery in Oceanside.

After the modern version of the Chouinard school opened in South Pasadena in 2003, Perine served as co-director and taught design, figure drawing and watercolor painting.


Born on Nov. 22, 1922, in Los Angeles, Perine attended Pasadena Junior College before going into the Navy as a painter during World War II. Using the G.I. Bill, he attended USC and graduated from Chouinard in 1950.

He taught briefly at the University of Alabama and at Chouinard from 1952 to 1954. He also launched a graphic design business in Los Angeles and for two decades created logos and marketing materials, primarily for Fender musical instruments.

Relocating to San Diego in 1970, Perine served as art director for Zoonooz magazine for 20 years, while painting and writing for art magazines. He also wrote a number of books about art and published them through his Artra Publishing Co.

Perine’s latest solo exhibition was at the Oceanside Museum of Art in 1999. His watercolors and other artworks are in more than 200 permanent collections throughout the country, including those of the Riverside Art Center and the San Diego Museum of Art.


He is survived by his wife of 24 years, Blaze Newman; two daughters from his former marriage, Jorli Perine and Lisa Corcoran, and eight grandchildren. His daughter Terri preceded him in death.

A memorial service is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Pacific View Memorial Park in Corona del Mar.

The family has asked that memorial donations be made to the Chouinard Foundation, 1020 Mission St., South Pasadena, CA 91030.