As a painter of horses, Bing is certainly not alone. And she is just as certainly a self-aware participant in a notable, and complex, tradition. But Bing is unusual in her panoptic focus, her desire to represent the horse as something besides a powerful, and perhaps ominous, natural force. Especially over the last two centuries – that is, for the course of the Industrial Revolution – the horse has figured as one of the most dynamic, if also one of the most elusive, leitmotifs in painting, and it is the multivalence of this leitmotif that Bing seeks to explore, with a focus as intense as its very subject.
Even in relatively straightforward, narrative depictions, such as in those of the American West, the horse has taken on a mystical aura, embodying at once the presence and the absence of human civilization. In other contexts, the horse becomes everything from nature’s perfect machine to humankind’s hope for transcendence. The synergy of horse and rider has inspired artists as disparate as Frederic Remington and Vasily Kandinsky; and the horse without rider has galloped through canvases as different as Rosa Bonheur’s and Susan Rothenberg’s.
The unfettered horse, note, has been a particular province of female painters – indeed, of female artists in all media; what for men would seem to be a feral, threatening creature appears to women as the very force of nature itself, even (as in Deborah Butterfield’s sculpture) when at rest. The horse alone is a constant presence in Bing’s work. But so is the horse bestrided – and, most unusually, the horse embraced, but not necessarily mounted, by its human counterpart. Bing seeks to explore the various facets of the equine presence in human consciousness, clearly regarding these facets not as contradictory but as complementary.
What is constant in Bing’s art is its technical and concomitant visual fluidity, its aqueous appearance and gentle but persistent texture. These abstract qualities would seem to essentialize Bing’s comprehension of “horseness”: she regards the animal as a manifestation not simply, or even primarily, of power and challenge, but one of grace and harmony. In its hippie universe, and equine universality, Bing’s painting reassures us that, while the apocalypse may be heralded by horsemen, horses themselves aver the sweet timelessness of nature.
Peter Frank is editor of Visions art quarterly, art critic for the LA Weekly, and writes for many art and general publications. He has organized exhibitions around the world, and is the author of several books. A native of New York, where he wrote about art for the 5oHo Weekly News and the Village Voice, Frank now lives in Los Angeles.