In the wake of so many recent tragedies, Americans are struggling to cope with a lot of difficult ideas—institutionalized racism, the profiling of African Americans and the divisions based on heritage and lived experience that still have a profound impact on this country. Many Americans struggle with how to deal with these sensitive yet pressing issues in a way that is cathartic and healthy, but could also yield some change. For Marvin Bing Jr., the answer has always been simple: Soothe the suffering with art.
Bing is an activist and a painter who has used his experiences growing up, as well as the pain he sees in the media, as a tool to channel positive change through creation. As a cannabis advocate, he recognizes that while cannabis is a wonderful medicine and tool, black Americans are also demonized for their possession of the plant more so than white people. Speaking through street art, a medium easily accessible to all, he hopes to spread the word about changes needed within society.
“Cannabis has been and is a part of our culture. As a kid who grew up in the streets and immersed in culture, whether that was music, art, fashion or entertainment, cannabis has always influenced or helped create the ideas I come up with in one respect of another.”
Recently, a California Collective commissioned Bing to do a mural. His piece incorporates cannabis, along with his usual positive social message. CULTURE caught up with him to ask about his creative process and how he seeks to make an impact with his art.
How did you get started creating art?
I started curating and integrating visual art into my work after the Ferguson Protests around the killing of Mike Brown. I felt that a creative response was needed alongside the brave protesters, instead of the same policy-heavy talking heads on TV.
How would you describe your style?
I don’t know if I have a style. I just go on what my eye and heart tell me. I will say that I believe in the underdogs as it relates to visual arts. So much focus is on “fine arts” and this idea that you have to be in the elite or posh class to have your art respected or even get respect as an artist. In my opinion there are street artists’ work that is much better than some fine art and contemporary art.
Who are some of your biggest influences?
Hebru Brantley, Joseph Lee, Gregory Siff, Jerome Larrigue, Derrick Adams, Brandan Odums, Sophia Dawson, King Saladeen, and also creatives such as Virgil Abloh, Mike Carson, Jerry Lorenzo, Don C, Elon Rutberg, Nigel Sylvester, Kid Cudi, and many, many others.
How has cannabis affected your creative process?
Cannabis has been and is a part of our culture. As a kid who grew up in the streets and immersed in culture, whether that was music, art, fashion or entertainment, cannabis has always influenced or helped create the ideas I come up with in one respect of another.
How do you feel about legalization so far? Could anything be done better or differently?
I think states are dragging their feet with legalizing medical and recreational; not California or Colorado of course. I think one thing that could be done is, don’t make it such a secret: Open the dialogue to all communities and educate everyone about the benefits and the process. One thing that has to change is the fact that black Americans are arrested for marijuana possession far more frequently than whites, and with legalization looming in many states, I hope that changes or ceases altogether.
How do you feel about the art scene that you are a part of?
It’s like being reborn on a daily basis. The way visual artists see the world from social issues, art, creativity, process, and life is so much different in a good way. The artists I work with on a daily basis are all socially in tune and want to really figure out a way to change the world for the better for marginalized communities. They also happen to be dope artists and creatives. They have accepted me into their community and teach me something new every day.
How did you get started interweaving activism and art? How did that come about?
When I left juvenile detention when I was 18, I took my first trip to New York City. It was also the first time I saw a Keith Haring mural. The way Haring’s work was dope and also spoke out around pressing social issues touched me. I also met [someone] who would be my mentor, Bill Lynch, who introduced me to his network, [in] which many were doing creative works like Dave Watkins, Gerri Warren Merrick, Dwight Johnson, and others, which would lead to me integrating art and creativity in my work at NAACP and Amnesty International.