DNA Study brings together two interrelated strands of McArthur Binion’s practice, his DNA Studies and his Self-Portraits, furthering the dialogue of his works made over the last 40 years. Born in 1946, Binion has maintained an engaging practice that draws on autobiographical experience, African American narrative and the visual elements of Modernism.
Binion’s DNA Studies appear as grids, bearing the graphic style of modernist paintings. The interplay between the personal and the historical lies here, alluding to his experiences as an overlooked African American artist during the boom years of the modernist movement in the 1970s New York. Binion’s crosshatches resemble painted brushstrokes yet arise from a far-more physical process of mark making with crayon on panel. The romance of labor has a deeper resonance in its reference to Binion’s childhood of picking cotton. This highly charged and distinctly African American narrative transcends modernism, which is conventionally devoid of expression. Binion channels this personal and simultaneously historic narrative through the idea of DNA – the most basic starting point for human existence that exemplifies our shared uniqueness. Binion elucidates on this metaphor as a platform for discourse, playing with this acronym: “(it could stand for) … Distinct Neurological Advancement, or Detroit Negro Artist…”
Underpinning Binion’s DNA Study are notions of self-awareness and self-discovery – a conscious reflection on himself and on the historical discourses that he’s contributed to. In his Self-Portraits, Binion layers photocopies from his address book from the 1970s into collaged tiles, creating geometric fields of abstract color. On close inspection these rhythmic panels expose the names of “Basquiat”, “Mary Boone” and “Meryl Streep” amongst a host of others: all friends, lovers or casual acquaintances. This document of artists, art-dealers and actresses, a who’s who of the golden age of creative high society in New York, similarly exposes Binion’s personal history as a disregarded black artist in an overwhelmingly white majority.
This layered memoir has been visited before in Binion’s Birth of Color series. Here Binion juxtaposed photocopies of his birth certificate, in which he is classified and typified as ‘colored’. This text from 1946 reveals itself as one buried in layers, echoing a lived moment. His works give a platform on which to re-stage these moments, exposing the multi-layered presence of racist imagery today through mining his own past.
Like this earlier series, the works in DNA Study displace and reposition the coldness of modernism through these individual stories, countering meaningless abstraction with extraction, and imbuing a subtle warmth.
McArthur Binion lives and works in Chicago. He was the first African American to graduate from Cranbrook University with an MFA and is associate professor where he teaches at Columbia College. He will exhibit at Prospect.3 in New Orleans in October 2013. Recent group shows include Above and Below the Surface: Eight Artists, Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, When the Stars Begin to Fall: Imagination in the American South, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York and Black and the Abstract, Part 2: Soft Curves/Hard Edges, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston,(all 2014). Recent solo exhibitions include Ghost: Rhythms, Kavi Gupta Chicago (2013), Perspectives 177: McArthur Binion, Contemporary Art Museum, Houston (2012) and Color Exploration: Simplicity in the Art of McArthur Binion, University of Maryland, University College Gallery (2010). Binion’s works are held in numerous private and public collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Cranbook Museum of Art, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan and the Detroit Institute of Art, Detroit, Michigan.