|Died||November 10, 2006 (aged 75)|
|Education||School of the Art Institute of Chicago|
|Movement||expressionist style, Surrealism and Southern folk art|
Benny Andrews (November 13, 1930 – November 10, 2006) was an American of mixed African and European ancestry painter, printmaker, and creator of collages. During the 1950s, he studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he began to take an interest in painting. In 1958, he moved to New York City to pursue artistic and activist work. Among other successes, he created art education programs to serve underprivileged students at Queens College and participated actively in the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition (1969). His advocacy of artists of color Howardena Pindell, Sam Gilliam, Roy DeCarava, and others contributed to their increasing visibility and reputation in museums and the historical canon. He received many awards, including the John Hay Whitney Fellowship (1965–66), the New York Council on the Arts fellowships (1971–81), and the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship (1974–81).
Benny Andrews was born into a family of ten on November 13, 1930, in the small community of Plainview, Georgia. His parents, George and Viola (née Perryman), were sharecroppers. His mother and father emphasized the importance of education, religion, and freedom of expression. Andrews' father was a self-taught artist whose drawings and paintings led to renown as the "Dot Man" and a retrospective at the Morris Museum of Art.
Despite his parents' stress on education, they could not afford to let Andrews go to school when they needed his help to pick or plant cotton. He attended Plainview Elementary School, a one-and-a-half room log cabin. Education past the seventh grade was discouraged in the sharecropping community, but Andrews parents allowed him and his siblings to attend high school during the winter months. Andrews managed to graduate from Burney Street High School in Madison, Georgia in 1948, making him his family's first high school graduate.
He received a two-year scholarship to go to Fort Valley College, a black state college in Georgia, for his work in the local 4-H organization. Unfortunately, Fort Valley College's limited art curriculum made it difficult for him to explore a range of media. He did, however, spend one summer painting murals in Atlanta during this time. Andrews' grades were poor, so when his scholarship ran out, he left college to join the U.S. Air Force. He trained in Texas before serving as a staff sergeant in Korea. While serving in the military, Andrews regularly sent his earnings home to support his mother and younger siblings. Having served from 1950 to July 1954, when he received an honorable discharge, Andrews used the G.I. Bill to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he was trained as an abstract expressionist and received his BFA. Prior to beginning his education at the Art Institute of Chicago, Andrews had never set foot in a museum. His professor Boris Margo helped Andrews discover his own personalized art style during this time and encouraged Andrews to experiment with combining painting and collage techniques. While earning his BFA, Andrews also worked as an illustrator for record companies and created advertisements for various Chicago theater companies. He also regularly created and sold sketches of Chicago's jazz scene.
After graduating from the School of Art Institute of Chicago, Andrews moved to New York City in 1958, where he settled on the Lower East Side. He began working in the Christmas card division of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in order to generate income for his young family. His work also steadily gained critical attention and was exhibited in several cities, including New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, Provincetown, Massachusetts, where Paul Kessler gave Andrews his first solo show in 1960. In 1962 the New York Times praised his first New York City solo exhibit at the Forum Gallery. He received the John Hay Whitney Fellowship for 1965. This fellowship was renewed in 1966, and Andrews used the money to return to Georgia. While in Georgia, Andrews created his Autobiographical Series of paintings. He then received a CAPS award from the New York State Council on the Arts in 1971. In the same year, he painted one of his most notable works, No More Games, which highlighted the plight of black artists and became an icon of his emerging social justice activism in the art world.
In 1966 Andrews began teaching art classes in drawing and painting at the New School for Social Research in New York, the Jewish Community Center in Bayonne, New Jersey, and an arts initiative in the South Bronx. Then, from 1968 to 1997, he taught at Queens College, City University of New York in the SEEK program, which offered academic support for underserved students.
In 1971, Andrews began teaching at the Manhattan Detention Complex. His arts program for prisons soon became a national model. Mayor John Lindsey honors Andrews for his work in 1973, and in 1976 Andrews curated an exhibition of work made by prisoners at the Studio Museum in Harlem.
In 1976, Andrews became the art program director for the Inner City Roundtable of Youths. This organization was composed of gang members who sought to combat youth violence and strengthen New York City's urban communities.
Social justice work
In 1969, Andrews co-founded the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition (BECC), an organization that protested the Harlem on My Mind: Cultural Capital of Black America, 1900-1968 exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. No African-Americans had been involved in organizing the show, and it contained no art—only photo reproductions and copies of newspaper articles about Harlem.
From 1982 to 1984, Andrews served as the director of visual arts for the National Endowment for the Arts. In this position, he had the chance to advocate for fellowships and grants to go to talented black artists who may otherwise have escaped notice.
Benny Andrews was a figural painter in the expressionist style who painted a diverse range of themes of suffering and injustice, including the Holocaust, Native American forced migrations, and Hurricane Katrina. In the 1960s he began to find his own style of painting, which developed parallel to the flourishing collage moment. Other influences on his work include surrealism and Southern folk art. His work hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Studio Museum in Harlem (New York City); the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia; the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC; and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Reflecting his minimalist style, Andrews said he was not interested in how much he could paint, but how little. He incorporated his sparing use of geometrical forms to convey broader messages about his subjects. Gabriel Tenabe describes his drawing as "delicate, subtle, and intimate... draw(ing) from his past private life in Georgia and his social life in New York." Christian imagery is juxtaposed with sensibilities of humanism to call out false religion, false democracy, sexism, and militarism and their roles in creating a failed society.
Using various media, Andrews depicted diverse American scenes and people in a figurative style that he felt both reflected the dignity of those he portrayed and served his commitment to social change.
Benny Andrews married Mary Ellen Jones Smith, a photographer, in 1957. The couple had three children, Christopher, Thomas, and Julia, before separating in 1976. The couple officially divorced in 1986.
Andrews died of cancer on November 10, 2006 at the age of 75.
Honors and awards
- John Hay Whitney Fellowship - 1965-66
- New York Council for the Arts Fellowship - 1971-1981
- MacDowell Colony Fellowships - 1972-1973, 1975-1978
- National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship - 1974-1981
- O'Hara Museum Prize, Tokyo -1976
- Bellagio Fellowship, Rockefeller Foundation - 1990
- Member of the National Academy of Design - 1997
- President’s Award to The Benny Andrews Foundation, United Negro College Fund - 2010
- Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis, MN
- "Home - Overview". Benny Andrews Estate. Retrieved March 10, 2018.
- "Andrews, Benny, 1930-". Contemporary Black Biography. Encyclopedia.com. 2005. Retrieved March 10, 2018.
- "Benny Andrews facts, information, pictures". Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 2018-03-07.
- Genocchio, Benjamin (2006-11-12). "Benny Andrews, 75, Dies; Painted Life in the South". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-03-07.
- "Biography". Benny Andrews Estate. Retrieved 2019-02-20.
- Andrews, Benny (2007-01-09). "Benny Andrews papers, 1940-2006". findingaids.library.emory.edu. Retrieved 2019-02-20.
- Cullen, Deborah. "Benny Andrews". Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
- Tenabe, Gabriel (1997). "Benny Andrews," St. James Guide to Black Artists, Thomas Riggs, ed. Detroit: St. James Press. p. 16. ISBN 1558622209.
- Benny Andrews: Biography and Much More from Answers.com
- Andrews, 75, Dies; Painted Life in the South[permanent dead link]
- Klacsmann, Karen Towers (August 17, 2017). "Benny Andrews (1930-2006)". New Georgia Encyclopedia.
- "CV". Benny Andrews Estate. Retrieved 2019-02-20.
- New York Times obituary
- Benny Andrews papers, 1945–1968 from the Smithsonian Archives of American Art
- Benny Andrews at Library of Congress Authorities, with 26 catalog records
- Benny Andrews at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis, MN
- Benny Andrews papers, 1940-2006 from the Stuart A. Rose Library, Emory University
- Benny Andrew's Estate website