The Asian Art Museum, located in San Francisco, CA, is hosting an exhibition entitled, “Into View: Bernice Bing,” which will include paintings along with journals, personal photographs, videos, and reproductions of letters from the late Chinese American artist Bernice Bing (1936–1998).
The show will include 24 new acquisitions to the museum’s collection along with several items that are being borrowed from Bernice Bing’s archive at Stanford University. Museum curators hope the show will demonstrate the complexities of the artist’s life and the struggles she faced as a lesbian painter and activist living in the bay area.
Bing was born in San Francisco in 1936. Her parents died when she was a young child and Bing grew up being shuttled between foster families, her grandmother’s home, and the Ming Quong Orphanage for Chinese Girls in Oakland, CA.
She studied painting at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. While there, she was mentored by faculty members Richard Diebenkorn and Saburo Hasegawa. Hasegawa, a theorist and Japanese painter, helped Bing’s understanding of both calligraphy and Zen Buddhism. Diebenkorn primarily influenced her art style, introducing her to the figurative movement.
After the California College of Arts and Crafts, Bing continued her education at the San Francisco Art Institute in Russian Hill. The year was 1960, and she pursued her art career with great fervor, receiving mentorship from Elmer Bischoff and Frank Lobdell.
Bing was influential in the Beat scene, which was located in North Beach along with other popular artists of the time like Joan Brown, Jay DeFeo, and Carlos Villa. She quickly became popular in the North Beach avant garde and in 1961 she had her first solo show in a gallery.
Keeping to her roots in the figurative movement, Bing’s paintings are abstract with a suggestion of different forms. As her career progressed, the influence of Buddhism and calligraphy would become more apparent in her work.
The show at the Asian Art Museum will contain ink drawings that Bing created during her years as a graduate student. They differ from her more well-known, public works in that she uses direct figuration. However, they also show a bit of the direction her career would eventually take via loose brushwork and a focus on both nature and female forms.
Bing didn’t just participate in the Bay Area art scene, showing her works primarily at non-profit venues. She also helped build it by founding a number of galleries in the 1970’s.
She had a hand in creating The South of Market Cultural Center, which later became SOMArts. It served as a space for community artists to show their work. Bing also helped establish the Scroungers’ Center for Reusable Art Parts, which helped locals repurpose discarded art supplies. Both of these institutions are are still active in the Bay area art scene.
Her greatest contribution to the community came in 1989 when Bing served as a founding member of the Asian American Women Artists Association.
Bing spent three months in China in 1984. During that time, she studied calligraphy and traditional ink landscape painting. It was during this period that her work was most heavily influenced by Buddhism and traditional Chinese art. Many of the titles of her paintings reference the Lotus Sutra.
In the early 1990s, Bing was diagnosed with hemochromatosis and lupus. Her final work is called “Epilogue,” 1990-1995, an expansive painting 1.8 meters by 7.3 meters in size, filled with powerful colors and strong lines. But even as she created this massive work, she wrote in a note dated 27 October, 1992, “I cannot change the world. The only thing I can change is me. And it may take a lifetime—not just this present life, but eons.” (San Francisco Examiner)
The “Into View: Bernice Bing” exhibition is currently on display at the Asian Art Museum, located at 200 Larkin St., San Francisco, CA. Bing’s artwork can be viewed Friday-Monday from 1pm to 8pm and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The exhibition runs through 2 May, 2023.
Bernice Bing, seminal S.F. painter, receives long overdue solo show at the Asian Art Museum (San Francisco Examiner)
Into View: Bernice Bing (The Asian Art Museum)
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