Art: The Bottle & I

Through the cold-water flats, walk-up studios, automats and bars where Manhattan's artists live and congregate buzzed disturbing news: the first major defection from the ranks of the abstract expressionists had taken place. Longtime Abstractionist John Ferren, 51, had hung a show of his new paintings in which nearly every canvas was centered around an all-too-recognizable bottle, beaker, carafe or cognac glass. What had the artists buzzing was why Ferren had hit on the bottle, and what had hit him hard enough to make him turn his back on the abstractionists' decade of painting for paint's sake?

Ball of Fire. Surrounded by his...