In each of the works in McArthur Binion’s DNA series (2013–ongoing) the artist blends private documents, such as negatives of his birth certificate (which references the situation of many that, like him, were born in rural communities and whose births were never recorded), with handwritten pages of his old phone books (where names from the past such as ‘Mary Boone’ and ‘Basquiat’ evoke the 1970s and 80s New York art scene). They are covered with layers of painted grids that conceal and at the same time introduce the narrative element of his practice. The use of personal documents asserts the artist’s own existence and the layers of paint encompass his experience in the art world in America.
The surfaces of the canvases are replete with abstract shapes and motives: the artist’s archival belongings, that can only be seen when in very close physical proximity to the canvas, are transformed by the paintbrush into textured patterns to reflect upon the influence of Modernism on his practice. Curator Lowery Stokes Sims once described his DNA series as ‘notions of self-awareness and self-discovery, a conscious reflection on himself and to the historical discourse he has contributed to.’
About McArthur Binion
McArthur Binion (b. 1946, Macon, MS; lives and works in Chicago, IL) combines collage, drawing, and painting to create autobiographical abstractions of painted minimalist patterns over a surface of personal documents and photographs. Photocopies of his birth certificate, pages from his address book, his passport photos, newspaper clippings, and photographs of his mother and childhood home constitute the tiled base of his works, over which he layers grids of oil stick. The complexly layered works, from a distance, appear to be monochromatic minimalist abstractions that have led many to compare his work to that of Jasper Johns, Robert Ryman, or Brice Marden. However, while his contemporaries focused more on materiality, abstraction, and in some cases the social and political climate of the time, Binion’s works are intensely personal and deeply dedicated to the rigorous process of making a painting. Upon closer inspection, these monochromatic abstractions come into focus: The perfect grid becomes a series of imperfect, laboriously hand-drawn lines, revealing intimate details of Binion’s identity and personal history. Binion’s gridded compositions impose rational order on the layers of personal history, showing only fragments of information from his birth certificate, or hints of details about his mother—but never enough to be immediately legible. Having begun his career as a writer, Binion is highly influenced by language and music, which can be seen in his titles and the ways he layers information to be “read” rather than simply seen. The tension that exists between the grid and the artist’s visible gestures is not unlike that of jazz music that merges improvisation with the order of a musical composition.
Binion received his BFA from Wayne State University, Detroit, in 1971, and his MFA from the Cranbook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, MI, in 1973. Binion’s works were featured prominently in the 57th Venice Biennale, VIVA ARTE VIVA, curated by Christine Macel. Solo exhibitions of his work have been organized at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, (2012); and the University of Maryland University College Gallery, Adelphi, MD (2010). Recent group exhibitions featuring his work include Picturing Mississippi, 1817-2017: Land of Plenty, Pain, and Promise, Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson, MI (2017); Dimensions of Black: a Collaboration with the San Diego African American Museum of Fine Art, Museum of Contemporary San Diego, San Diego (2017); New at NOMA: Recent Acquisitions in Modern and Contemporary Art, New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans (2017); Through the African American Lens, National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, D.C. (2017); Circa 1970, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2016); Prospect.3: Notes for Now, New Orleans (2014); When the Stars Begin to Fall: Imagination in the American South, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2014); and Black in the Abstract, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, (2013). His work is in numerous public and private collections, including the Cranbrook Art Museum, Bloomfield Hills, MI; Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit; Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, MO; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, D.C.; New Orleans Museum of Art; The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.; Wayne State University, Detroit; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.