By Bernice Bing
Once upon a time it was rare to find any Asians in prestigious art schools. When I was an art student, I came to the realization that a brush felt more comfortable and familiar in my hand than a pencil. Dexterity with a brush led me to the fine arts–painting.
At that time I knew almost nothing about Eastern art or thought. I was totally naive about my own cultural heritage. I was living in and reacting to parallel worlds–one, the rational, conscious world of the West; the other, the intuitive, unconscious world of the East. This duality caused me to explore the differences and samenesses in art forms.
Existentialism was the first influence that persuaded me toward the abstract expressionist school of painting. The philosophical bases of existentialism–one’s responsibility for making one’s own nature as well as personal freedom, independent decision-making, and the importance of commitment–were to me the attitude of the abstract way of painting.
The avant-garde of the late 1950s were inspiring–among abstractionists, de Kooning, Kline, Motherwell, Still; in jazz, Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Monk, Mingus; in poetry, Stein, Pound, Genet, Rilke; in literature, Camus, Gide, Hesse, Mann, de Beauvoir; in the theater, Beckett, Genet, Albee; and in art films, Bergman, Antonioni, Fellini. These were my mentors, muses, and totems.
Zen Buddhism, through Suzuki’s books, spread rapidly to the West Coast, Saburo Hasegawa, a Zen painter, was my first profound influence in Eastern thought. “To see without seeing” was a concept totally foreign to me. There began my pursuit of more knowledge of the poetry and thought of Po Chu-i, Chuang Tzu, Lau Tzu, Shakyamuni, and Wang Hsi-chih, the “calligrapher sage.”
Fritjof Capra has written in his Tao of Physics, “Modern physics can be a path with a heart, a way to spiritual knowledge and self-realization.” Recently, since my return from a trip to China, I have made a path to my heart with Chinese calligraphy. Chinese calligraphy has been evolving for six thousand years, whereas in our Western society we are but primitives experiencing a new aesthetic. In my abstract imagery, I am attempting to create a new synthesis with a very old world.
For me, all nature is pure, and purely abstracted, the spiritual union links both the seen and the unseen forms of nature. Freedom, for example, is seeing trees as pure energy, light, and mass made up of linear particles.
I would like to think of myself as a disciple of the art of Chinese calligraphy; however, my practice and knowledge are those of a novice. Yet the outcome of my personal statement–how I view the world, using only knowledge and experiences from the past, present, and future–remains on its own terms.
Completing the Circle
Southern Exposure Gallery
San Francisco, 1990
Artist’s Statement, 1990.
By Bernice Bing