Bernice Bing

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Bernice Bing
Born 1936
San Francisco, California
Died 1998
Philo, California
Nationality Chinese American
Education Studied with Richard Diebenkorn, Nathan Oliveira, Elmer Bischoff, Clyfford Still, Frank Lobdell
Alma mater California College of Arts and Crafts, California School of Fine Arts
Known for Oil painting
Movement Abstractionism

Bernice Bing (1936-1998) was a Chinese American artist born in San Francisco, California in 1936.

In 1941 Bing’s mother died, leaving her with limited exposure to her traditional Chinese heritage. Raised in numerous Caucasian foster homes and living for a time in the Ming Quong Home, she was given the nickname, “Bingo.” Showing an early affinity for art she was both praised and challenged by a very traditional grandmother. Awarded a National Scholastic Award in 1957 she briefly attended the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland as an advertising major, later turning to painting under instructors Nathan Oliveira (1928-2010), Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993), and Saburo Hasegawa (1906-1957). Through Hasegawa, a Japanese-born painter, Bing was introduced to Zen Buddhism, Chinese philosophers, including Lao Tzu and Po Chu-i, and traditional calligraphy. In 1958 she transferred to the California School of Fine Arts (now known as the San Francisco Art Institute) earning a B.F.A. with honors in 1959 followed by an M.F.A. in 1961. She studied with Elmer Bischoff and Frank Lobdell, and maintained a studio in North Beach above the Old Spaghetti Factory, a popular artist hangout. Her wider circle of friends and Bay Area abstract painters included Joan Brown, Wally Hedrick, Jay DeFeo, Bruce Conner and Fred Martin.

She was known for her interest in the Beats and Zen Buddhism, and for "calligraphy-inspired abstraction" in her paintings, which she adopted after studying with Saburo Hasegara.

In her art’s bridge between East and West, Bing cited an early exposure to existential philosophy that led to her pursuit of abstraction, combined with a broad array of artistic, literary, film and musical influences characteristic of the postwar fifties: from Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline and Robert Motherwell, Albert Camus and Simone de Beauvoir, to Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini. Like many postwar abstractionists, she recognized the prominence of Zen Buddhism and followed author Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki, Zen’s Western authority. In her later years she devoted her practice to Nichiren Buddhism, a branch of Buddhism based on the teachings of the 13th century Japanese monk Nichiren (1222–1282).

In 1960, while accompanying Joan Brown to New York for the latter’s one-person show at Staempfli Gallery, she met Marcel Duchamp, an extraordinary experience for her. In 1961, San Francisco’s Batman Gallery, an alternative Beat space with all black walls, located at 2222 Fillmore (named by poet Michael McClure and painter Bruce Conner), mounted her one-person exhibition “Paintings & Drawings by Bernice Bing”; she showed large-scale works, including her painting “Las Meninas” (1960) based on Diego Velázquez’s Baroque court scene. James Monte critically reviewed her shows in Artforum in 1963 and 1964. She moved to Mayacamas Vineyards, Napa Valley, for a three-year period but returned to Berkeley for her two-person exhibition at Berkeley Gallery. In 1967, she took part in the first residential program of Esalen Institute, New Age Psychology and Philosophy at Big Sur, where she continued her interest in C.G. Jung’s symbolism, encountered Joseph Campbell and Alan Watts, and read Fritjof Capra’s Tao of Physics. From 1984-85, Bing traveled to Korea, Japan and China, studying traditional Chinese ink landscape painting at the Zhejiang Art Academy, Haungzhou.,[1][2][3]

She was an activist and an arts administrator in the 1980s in the San Francisco Bay Area, serving as the first executive director of the South of Market Cultural Center, now known as SOMArts, directing the gallery space. For over two decades she organized community arts activities through the San Francisco Neighborhood Arts Program, which later became the San Francisco Arts Commission.

Her work Mayacamas, No. 6, March 12, 1963 is held by the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco. It was inspired by the Mayacamas Mountains of Northern California. The Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, California has a promised gift by Bing, a large oil on canvas titled, "Velázquez Family."

In 2013 a documentary film, "The World of Bernice Bing," was Executive Produced by Asian American Women Artists Association [1] and Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project [2]; Produced and Directed by Madeleine Lim; Co-Produced by Jennifer Banta Yoshida and T. Kebo Drew.

She died in Philo, California in 1998.[4]


  1. ^ Moira Roth and Diane Tani, eds. Bernice Bing, exh. cat., Berkeley: Visibility Press, 1991
  2. ^ Lydia Matthews, "Quantum Bingo," Retrospective Exhibition, SomArts Gallery, San Francisco, 1999
  3. ^ Jennifer Banta Yoshida, "The Painting in the Rafters: Refiguring Abstract Expressionist Bernice Bing," 2009
  4. ^ Cornell, Daniell; Mark Dean Johnson; Gordon H Chang (2008). Asian American modern art: shifting currents, 1900-1970. San Francisco : University of California Press; Berkeley: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. p. 127. ISBN 9780520258648.