Once upon a time it was rare to find any Asians in prestigious art schools. When I was an art student, I came to the realization that a brush felt more comfortable and familiar in my hand than a pencil. Dexterity with a brush led me to the fine arts - painting. At that time I knew almost nothing about Eastern art or thought. I was totally naive about my own cultural heritage. I was living in and reacting to parallel worlds - one, the rational, conscious world of the West; the other, the intuitive, unconscious world of the East. This duality caused me to explore the differences and samenesses in art forms. Existentialism was the first influence that persuaded me toward the abstract expressionist school of painting. The philosophical bases of existentialism - one’s responsibility for making one’s own nature as well as personal freedom, independent decision-making, and the importance of commitment - were to me the attitude of the abstract way of painting. The avant-garde of the late 1950s were inspiring - among abstractionists, de Kooning, Kline, Motherwell, Still; in jazz, Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Monk, Mingus; in poetry, Stein, Pound, Genet, Rilke; in literature, Camus, Gide, Hesse, Mann, de Beauvoir; in the theater, Beckett, Genet, Albee; and in art films, Bergman, Antonioni, Fellini. These were my mentors, muses, and totems. Zen Buddhism, through Suzuki’s books, spread rapidly to the West Coast. Saburo Hasegawa, a Zen painter, was my first profound influence in Eastern thought. "To see without seeing” was a concept totally foreign to me. There began my pursuit of more knowledge of the poetry and thought of Po Chu-i, Chuang Tzu, Lao Tzu, Shakyamuni, and Wang Hsi-chih, the “calligrapher sage.” Fritjof Capra has written in his Tao of Physics, “Modern physics goes far beyond technology; the way - or Tao - of physics can be a path with a heart, a way to spiritual knowledge and self-realization.” Recently, since my return from a trip to China, I have made a path to my heart with Chinese calligraphy. Chinese calligraphy has been evolving for six thousand years, whereas in our Western society we are but primitives experiencing a new aesthetic. In my abstract imagery, I am attempting to create a new synthesis with a very old world. For me, all nature is pure, and purely abstracted; the spiritual union links both the seen and the unseen forms of nature. Freedom, for example, is seeing trees as pure energy, light, and mass made up of linear particles. I would like to think of myself as a disciple of the art of Chinese calligraphy; however, my practice and knowledge are those of a novice. Yet the outcome of my personal statement - how I view the world, using only knowledge and experiences from the past, present, and future - remains on its own terms. -Bing’s artist statement
Même si Bernice Bing n’a jamais été à proprement parler rattachée au mouvement beat, ses années à San Francisco l’ont rapprochée de ses principales figures. Née en 1936, Bernice perd sa mère alors qu’elle n’est qu’une simple enfant. Privée de son seul héritage culturel chinois, la petite se balade d’un foyer à un autre, pour la plupart du temps au sein de familles sans lien avec ses origines.
Bernice montre cependant très tôt des talents artistiques. En 1957, elle est reçue à la California College of Arts and Crafts, mais décide d’abandonner les cours afin de suivre les préceptes de Nathan Oliveira, Richard Diebenkorn et Saburo Hasegawa. Grâce à ce dernier, Bernice découvre la méditation zen, la philosophie chinoise, ainsi que la calligraphie, qui inspirera fortement ses œuvres à venir.
L’année suivante, la jeune femme intègre la California School of Fine Arts où elle décroche de très bons résultats. En parallèle, Bernice travaille dans son studio situé à North Beach, au-dessus du Old Spaghetti Factory, célèbre repère d’artistes, où elle lie de nombreuses amitiés : Joan Brown, Wally Hedrick, Jay Defeo (à lire ici) et Fred Martin.
Inspirée par sa propre culture, Bernice l’intègre à ses travaux abstraits tout en y mélangeant des inspirations littéraires, cinématographiques et musicales : William de Kooning, Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, Ingmar Bergman et Frederico Fellini.
En 1967, elle est exposée au 2222 Filmore, l’espace beat de San Francisco. Mais son travail se perd et malgré ses activités de peintre, Bernice obtient difficilement la renommée, en raison de sa sexualité et de ses origines.
I do believe that one of the reason she was able to garner a one-woman show at the Batman Gallery was because of her fearless large-scale canvases, similar to what her male-counterparts were producing. Bing was a fierce painter and she could hold her own. In this bohemian milieu, the masculine world of the literati and the male subjectivity of Abstract Expressionism dominated. Women were present as business partners and artists, but their mobility was limited owing, in part, that within the avant-garde there was still a lot of sexism. The two prominent women in this group were close friends of Bing’s, Joan Brown, married to Manuel Neri and Jay De Feo, married to Wally Hedrick. A woman’s success and visibility as an artist was no doubt heightened by the partnerships she formed. Bernice Bing, as a lesbian and a woman of color, was outside of this world.
Activiste pour les droits des gays, organisatrice d’événements artistiques, Bernice devient, dès les années 80, une figure de l’art par l’intermédiaire de ses actions. En 2013, un documentaire sur sa vie est produit sous l’égide de l’Asian American Woman Artists Association et la Queer Women of Media Arts Projects.
Elle meurt à Philo, en Californie, en 1998.