McArthur Binion: New Etchings
June 1, 2023 - September 30, 2023
For his latest iteration of prints, Chicago-based painter McArthur Binion (b. 1946, Macon, Mississippi) presents nine distinct editions, titled Berkeley:Suite 10-15 and Sixteen:Square 1-3.
The formal and conceptual bedrock of the new works, what Binion calls his “Visual:Ear,” draws an ecstatic loop in the artist’s practice: The editions mark a return to an idea first crystalized over 50 years ago while he pursued his MFA in painting at Cranbrook Academy in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Binion coined the phrase while making a drawing titled Drawn Symphony:In:Sane:Minor, 1971 and it remained dormant in his mind, but nonetheless present for decades. The concept was then reactivated and visualized on the occasion of Visual:Ear, a solo-exhibition presented by Xavier Hufkens Gallery in 2022, for which these prints served as a testing ground. According to the artist, this series represents “the clarification of my character as a painter.”
Since the genesis of his DNA series in 2013, Binion’s artworks have consistently sprung forth from a base layer of imagery that the artist names the “underconscious,” atop which he layers pigmented ink and paint stick to form the frenetic geometric shapes and patterns that denote his signature aesthetic. Formerly, the “underconscious” has been almost exclusively made up of reproduced images of Binion’s personal ephemera, like his address book, birth certificate, childhood home, and portraits taken at various stages throughout his life. For his Visual:Ear works, though, the “underconscious” is made up of a musical score titled Still Standing Stuttering, which Binion commissioned from Pulitzer Prize winning composer Henry Threadgill. Thus, this particular series denotes a new horizon for his oeuvre, in that it further abstracts Binion’s auto-biographical presence in the work.
The title of the score draws another loop in the artist’s practice, in that it is culled from a painting titled Stuttering:Standing:Still, 2013, which was dedicated to Binion and Threadgill’s mutual friend, Butch Morris, who was also a conductor and composer. Music, particularly jazz, has long been a significant influence on Binion’s practice, as he rubbed shoulders with musicians like Cecil Taylor, Olu Dara, Julius Hemphill and Butch Morris, as mentioned above, when he lived in New York in the 1970’s and 80’s.
It also bears noting that Binion, from a young age, became adept in modes of communication that exceed the verbal, as demanded by his verbal stutter: “The visual ear is a [form of] non-verbal communication,” says the artist. With this in mind, this new body of work invites us to rely on all our senses as forms of evidence and knowledge production and gives credence to the fact that spoken language is not the only way we come to know, connect with and relate to one another. Ultimately, probing sensorial questions that range from the mundane to the existential, these prints propose the supreme value of learning to look by listening, and likewise, learning to listen by looking.