Generations, 1961
Oil on canvas
61 1/2 x 61 1/2 in (156.2 x 156.2 cm)

Born in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1936, Bernice Bing (d. 1998) spent her childhood bouncing between an orphanage and foster homes. She attended California College of Arts and Crafts, where she studied with Richard Diebenkorn and Japanese painter and theorist Saburo Hasegawa, who introduced Bing to Zen Buddhism, Chinese philosophers, and traditional calligraphy, which would inspire much of her painting practice. She completed her B.F.A. and earned her M.F.A. at the California School of Fine Arts, where she studied with painters such as Elmer Bischoff and became enmeshed in the city’s Beat Era art scene. As a woman of color, a lesbian, a survivor of abusive and inconstant foster care, a spiritual seeker and a bon vivant, she found kinship in San Francisco’s bohemian art scene.

Generations dates from 1961, the same year Bing had her first solo show (at San Francisco’s Batman Gallery). The work anticipates Bing’s mystical, visionary paintings of the California landscape while remaining rooted in abstraction, capturing the changing dynamics of light and an overwhelming sense of spirituality.