McArthur Binion | Artist Overview

McArthur Binion

b. 1946

McArthur Binion combines collage, drawing, and painting to create autobiographical abstractions of painted minimalist patterns over an “under surface” of personal documents and photographs. From photocopies of his birth certificate and pages from his address book, to pictures from his childhood and found photographs of lynchings, the poignant and charged images that constitute the tiled base of his work are concealed and abstracted by 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, behind which emerge intimate details of Binion’s identity and personal history. Binion’s gridded compositions impose rational order to the layers of personal history, allowing only fragments of information from his birth certificate to be read, or details of his mother’s face to be identified—but never enough to be immediately legible. Having begun his career as a writer, Binion is highly influenced by language and music, as can be seen in his titles and the ways in which 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, which merges improvisation with the order of a musical composition.