Bernice Bing

1936San Francisco, United States | 1998Philo, United States
Bernice Bing — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Portrait of Bernice Bing, © Estate de Bernice Bing

Chinese-American abstract painter.

Bernice Bing was a Chinese-American lesbian artist and advocate for the arts. Known to friends and colleagues simply as “Bingo”, B. Bing fused elements of Bay Area Abstract Expressionism with Chinese calligraphy and landscape practices to produce sensitive, gestural works in earthen palettes.
B. Bing was born in San Francisco’s Chinatown to Chinese-American parents and raised by several foster families after the death of her parents. At the time of her birth in 1934, the discriminatory effects of the turn-of-the-century Chinese Exclusion Act were still deeply felt within Chinese-American communities across the United States. The residual effects of this discrimination, as well as her early separation from her parents, left B. Bing relatively estranged from her own cultural heritage – a gulf she attempted to bridge through paint. 
In 1957 B. Bing began her graduate training at California College of Arts and Crafts (CCAC) in Oakland, staking her claim in the art world a decade before second-wave feminism or the LGBT rights movements challenged the heterosexist paradigm of the “genius”, male artist. At CCAC she studied under the advisement of landscape painter Richard Diebenkorn and Japanese-born abstract painter Saburo Hasegawa. Two years later B. Bing took her studies across the Bay. She transferred to the San Francisco Art Institute, where she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1959 and a Master of Fine Arts in 1961. At SFAI B. Bing studied with Elmer Bischoff and Frank Lobdell, proponents of the Bay Area Figurative Movement and Abstract Expressionism, respectively.

B. Bing’s painterly practice metabolised the techniques and philosophies of her many instructors. In a 1991 interview with Moira Roth and Diane Tani she explained how Diebenkorn’s approach to rendering landscape, whereby washes are applied over solid colours, remained central to her practice throughout her career. The sumi-e technique – the application of carbon-based ink wash on paper and calligraphy, to which she’d been introduced by S. Hasegawa – was similarly influential.
And there was yet another influence that was as foundational to B. Bing’s practice as her time in the classroom. In 1963 she left San Francisco for the Napa Valley countryside where she worked on the Mayacamas vineyards. Having spent her entire life in the urban Bay Area, the drama of the more rural Mayacamas Mountains impressed itself on Bing and catalysed a series of experiments with impasto.

Apart from her work as a dynamic, abstract painter, B. Bing made significant contributions as a community arts organiser. Following her time in the Maycamas, she returned to San Francisco in the 1970s and worked as staff member of the Neighborhood Arts Program, and founded the Scroungers Center for Reusable Art Parts (SCRAP), work that occupied much of her time throughout the mid-1980s.
Yet the urge to paint never left her. Following a trip to China in 1985, B. Bing focused once more on her painting. Hereafter, she devoted her practice to studying traditional calligraphy and incorporating its discipline and meditative aspects into her abstract work. It was in this idiom that she continued to work until her death in 1998. In 2020 Stanford University Libraries acquired B. Bing’s archive, opening new pathways for research into the life of this formidable artist.

Frances Lazare

A notice produced as part of the TEAM international academic network: Teaching, E-learning, Agency and Mentoring

© Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions
Bernice Bing — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Bernice Bing, Velasquez Family, 1961, oil on canvas, Crocker Art Museum, © Estate de Bernice Bing

Bernice Bing — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Bernice Bing, Mayacamas No. 6, 1963, oil on canvas, 124.5 x 121.9 cm, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, © Estate de Bernice Bing

Bernice Bing — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Bernice Bing, A Lady and a Road Map, 1963, oil con canvas, 172.7 cm x 132.1 cm, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, © Estate of Bernice Bing

Bernice Bing — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Bernice Bing, Burney Falls, 1980, oil on canvas, 241.3 x 195.6 cm, Courtesy of Sangsook Lee, © Estate de Bernice Bing

Bernice Bing — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Bernice Bing, Ideograph, 1989, oil on canvas, 121.9 x 121.9 cm, Private collection, © Estate de Bernice Bing

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