Peter Dean was a figurative expressionist painter who was concerned with depicting the political and social events of his time. Painting with apocalyptic and sometimes violent undertones, Dean’s work set him apart from the cool and analytic art of the 1960’s and 70’s like Minimalism, hard edge abstraction, Pop and Op art. Instead, Dean’s art aligns him closely with the German Expressionists and the Fauves; elements of Baroque and Classical themes also abound. Dean's art was an anomaly during a time of “ art as commodity” culture, seeking to represent the emotional and social realities of his time instead. Dean was particularly interested in depicting the advancements and failures of modern civilization, particularly, technology, war, urban life, and general existential crises with a socially critical conscience.
Dean was born in 1934 in Berlin, Germany to Jewish parents. The family luckily immigrated to New York in 1938 where Dean was raised in a refugee community in Inwood. Dean attended Cornell University, and then the University of Wisconsin where he took art history courses and painted, but pursued a degree in geology. Dean worked as a geologist and pursued his art on his own time, fully committing to being an artist by 1969. In 1965 Dean co-founded the Torque group, whose members included Joseph Kurhajec, Peter Saul, and Leon Golub. In 1969, Dean founded another group, Rhino Horn, including Peter Pasuntino, Nick Sperakis, and other artists who focused on socially critical art. Dean has had numerous solo and group shows in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and has work has been collected by several public collections including the Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois; the Milwaukee Art Museum, Wisconsin; the National Gallery of Art, D.C; the Mint Museum of Art, North Carolina, Grey Art Gallery, New York, among others. He died in New York in 1993.