Benny Andrews

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Benny Andrews
Born(1930-11-13)November 13, 1930
DiedNovember 10, 2006(2006-11-10) (aged 75)
NationalityUnited States American
EducationSchool of the Art Institute of Chicago
Movementexpressionist style, Surrealism and Southern folk art

Benny Andrews (November 13, 1930 – November 10, 2006) was an African-American 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.[1] 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).[2]


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.[3][4] His mother and father emphasized the importance of education, religion, and freedom of expression. George Andrews himself 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 high school only in the winter.[3] Andrews managed to graduate from Burney Street High School in Madison, Georgia in 1948, making him his family's first high school graduate.

He got a two-year scholarship to go to Forth Valley College, whose limited art curriculum made it difficult for him to explore a range of media. His grades were poor, so when his scholarship ran out, he left college to join the U.S. Air Force.[4] Having served from 1950 to 1953, he used the G.I. Bill to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he was trained as an abstract expressionist [4] and received his BFA.

In 1962 the New York Times praised his first New York City solo exhibit.[4] He received the John Hay Whitney Fellowship for 1965-1966 and a CAPS award from the New York State Council on the Arts in 1971.[5] 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.[6]

From 1968 to 1997, Andrews taught at Queens College, City University of New York and created an arts program for prisons, one that became a national model.

Social justice work[edit]

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.

The BECC then persuaded the Whitney Museum to launch a similar exhibition of African American artists, but later felt compelled to boycott the Whitney show for similar reasons.[7]

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.

Andrews traveled in 2006 to the Gulf Coast to work on an art project with children displaced by Hurricane Katrina.[8]


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.[5] 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.[5]

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.

Family life[edit]

Benny Andrews was married to artist Nene Humphrey for 20 years. He had three children.

Andrews died of cancer at the age of 75.

Selected Collections[edit]


  1. ^ "Home - Overview". Benny Andrews Estate. Retrieved March 10, 2018.
  2. ^ "Andrews, Benny, 1930-". Contemporary Black Biography. 2005. Retrieved March 10, 2018.
  3. ^ a b "Benny Andrews facts, information, pictures". Retrieved 2018-03-07.
  4. ^ a b c d 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.
  5. ^ a b c Cullen, Deborah. "Benny Andrews". Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
  6. ^ Tenabe, Gabriel (1997). "Benny Andrews," St. James Guide to Black Artists, Thomas Riggs, ed. Detroit: St. James Press. p. 16. ISBN 1558622209.
  7. ^ Benny Andrews: Biography and Much More from
  8. ^ Andrews, 75, Dies; Painted Life in the South[permanent dead link]

External links[edit]