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 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 that merges improvisation with the order of a musical composition.
Binion received his BFA from Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 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 Cranbrook Art Museum, Bloomfield Hills, MI (2018); the Contemporary Art Museum, Houston, TX (2012); and the University of Maryland University College Gallery, Adelphi, MD (2010). Recent group exhibitions featuring his work include Black Refractions: Highlights from The Studio Museum in Harlem, Museum of the African Diaspora, San Francisco, CA (2019); Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, SC (forthcoming); Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, Kalamazoo, MI (forthcoming); Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, MA (forthcoming); Frye Museum of Art, Seattle, WA (forthcoming); Utah Museum of Fine Art, Salt Lake City, UT (forthcoming); Expanding Narratives: The Figure and the Ground, Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago, Chicago, IL (2018); Something to Say: The McNay Presents 100 Years of African American Art, NcNay Art Museum, San Antonio, TX (2018); 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, CA (2017); New at NOMA: Recent Acquisitions in Modern and Contemporary Art, New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, LA (2017); Through the African American Lens, National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, DC (2017); Circa 1970, Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2016); Prospect.3: Notes for Now, New Orleans, LA (2014); When the Stars Begin to Fall: Imagination in the American South, Studio Museum, Harlem, NY (2014); and Black in the Abstract, Contemporary Art Museum Houston, TX (2013).
His work is in numerous public and private collections including the Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art at Rollins College, Cornell Fine Arts Museum, Winter Park, FL; Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH; Ariel Mutual Funds Chicago, IL; Art Bridges, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AK; Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Michigan, Detroit, MI; Children's Hospital of Michigan, Detroit, MI; City of Detroit, Detroit, MI; Cook County Hospital, Chicago, MI; Cranbrook Art Museum, Bloomfield Hills, MI; Detroit Institute of Art, Detroit, MI; Fidelity Investments Art Collection; Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA; Joyner Giuffrida Collection; Kemper Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO; McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, TX; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson, MS; Mott Warsh Collection, Flint, MI; National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, DC; New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, LA; Phillips Collection, Washington, DC; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA; Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, DC; Strauss Family Collection, Santa Fe, CA; Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY; Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, OH; Wayne State University, Detroit, MI and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY.