McArthur Binion

May 10, 2013 | Published Articles, Writing

The following profile was originally published by Art ltd., in May, 2013.


A late winter sun falls through McArthur Binion’s studio windows, as train horns blare audibly from the neighboring tracks. Inside, the artist’s paintings hang on the wall, some still in process, others dating back to the 1970s. As is indicative of Binion’s life, his work draws on numerous influences; “Ghost: Rhythms”–a recent show of early work at Kavi Gupta Gallery–shows the influence of action painting, Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism. Binion pulls stylistic tropes common to folk artists as well, borrowing quilting patterns, layering photographic imagery and motifs and grids. He does all this while using one implement: his characteristic “crayon,” or paint stick. With that in hand, the artist is emphatic about the primary importance of narrative, extolling his own personal history as his fount of inspiration. “I’m coming from some place that’s not part of an historical lineage,” Binion says. “I already had my voice,” he adds. “I had to find my hands.”

Binion was born in 1946, one of eleven children, on a cotton farm in Macon, Mississippi. He moved to Detroit where his father took a job in an auto plant. “I had a speech block until I was 19–I stuttered. I couldn’t talk. Up until that point, my whole life was about non-verbal communication.” The same year he stopped worrying about his stutter, he dropped out of college and moved to New York, and found his way into a museum on a work errand. “I’d never been to a museum before,” he recalls. “I never understood that painting could be of a philosophical nature. It really got me.” Binion returned to school, to pursue the arts. “It took me two or three years to build up the courage, most of the things I tried I could do really well–but drawing was the first thing I had ever done that I totally had nothing going. It was an emotional experience. All these other kids had been drawing all their lives and I was 22 without experience.” In 1973, he became the first African American to graduate from Cranbrook with an MFA. He returned to New York and found himself in a nexus of contemporary art, amid such figures as Dan Flavin, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Gordon Matta-Clark, dealer Mary Boone, et al. “We were all there, and for me it was like I finally met my colleagues. It was like let’s get this motherfucker on!” (read more)