not but nothing other: African-American Portrayals, 1930s to Today

McArthur Binion (born 1946)
Sepia: Martha II, 2017

Binion has long resided in the North, but he was born and raised one of what would grow to a family of eleven children on a cotton farm in rural Mississippi—what he has called “the real South … where all the original Black outsiders come from.” The methodical grid of this print reflects that upbringing, composed as it is of a repeated sepia-toned photograph of his mother Martha wearing her garden hat, evoking a powerful childhood memory. He overlays the grid with an ochre circle where we find a second grid that orders an array of simple, hand-drawn marks.

In this work, Binion uses a compositional technique called seriality, the successive arrangement of identical elements in ranks, rows or, as here, grids. Since its first use in advanced art of the 1960s, it has typically been seen as a means of emptying the artwork of the maker’s personality and subjectivity. Binion deploys it, however, precisely to reference his family history. He unites seemingly opposed categories—the abstract and the figurative, the mechanical and the handmade—in an effort to, as he puts it, “find some humanity within abstraction.”

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