‘Once upon a time it was rare to find any Asians in prestigious art schools,’ said Bernice Bing one of the nation’s earliest Asian American artists to break into the elite world of modern art.
‘Bingo’ came of age artistically during the Beat Generation and became well-known in San Francisco and throughout the art world for her powerful use of line and colour to explore a variety of subjects, all centered around the understanding of self (a theme reinforced by Bing’s embrace of Zen Buddhism on her later years.)
She was born in 1936 San Francisco’s Chinatown. Her mother passed away before Bing was 6 years old and she and her sister were placed in White foster homes where Bing struggled to navigate between her predominantly White world and Asian American self.
In college she pursued her growing affinity for art, and quickly became influenced by her instructors, including two Japanese artists and calligraphers, to develop a unique signatory style to her paintings.
Bing was extremely dedicated to community work and in the 1970’s when San Francisco’s Chinatown area was in political upheaval and turmoil, she established the city’s first Asian American art festival. She created an art workshop with the Baby Wah Chings, a Chinatown gang, after the Golden Dragon Massacre in San Francisco.
In 1980, she was appointed the Director of the South of Market Cultural Centre one of 4 cultural centres run by the San Francisco Arts Commission at the time.
In her art’s bridge between East and West, Bingo cited an early exposure to existential philosophy that led to her pursuit of abstraction, combined with a broad array of artistic, literary, film and musical influences characteristic of the postwar fifties: from Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline and Robert Motherwell, Albert Camus and Simone de Beauvoir, to Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini. Like many postwar abstractionists, she recognized the prominence of Zen Buddhism and followed author Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki, Zen’s Western authority.
In 1989, Bing joined the newly formed Asian American Woman Artists Association, a phenomenal non-profit that remains highly active today and whose mission is to promote the voices of Asian American women through art.
In her essay ‘Quantum Bingo’ Lydia Mathews writes”
Hers was a powerfully sustained yet quiet career. This kind of artist can easily fall through historical cracks if we do not diligently keep her memory alive, for Bernice Bing avoided trendy aesthetic fashions and refused to engage in the kind of self-promotion that is often required for art world notoriety. Her idea of success had everything to do with the caliber of one’s acts and little to do with recognition although she success on both fronts.
In 2013, a documentary film, ‘The World of Bernice Bing’ was co-produced by Asian American Women Artists Association.
Bingo died in 1993.