1930 (Plainview, Georgia)
2006 (Brooklyn, New York)
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ethnic genre painting, abstraction, collage
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Black American Artists
|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|Best known for large collage paintings on canvas, Benny Andrews did
work that verges on caricature, many of them related to his
African-American heritage in the South.|
He was raised in Morgan
County, Georgia and was baptized in the Plainview Baptist Church, a
subject he depicted in a body of work titled The Revival Series. In this series of about 26 drawings and gouaches, he explores the theme of the Christian religion in society.
Another series is a chronicle of the life of his brother, who committed suicide.
Bennie Andrews died of cancer on November 10, 2006.
Art in America, December 2002
Death notice from Mark Garner, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans, LA
|Biography from RoGallery.com:|
|Benny Andrews is a humanist and crusader, whose portraits depict his personal
feelings about human life, suffering, desperation, and about
hardworking African Americans and blacks all oven the world.|
Born: Madison, Georgia, 13 November 1930.
Education: Fort Valley State College, Ft. Valley, Georgia, 1948-50;
School of the Chicago Art Institute, 1954-58, B.F.A. 1958; University
of Chicago, 1955-56. Military Service: United States Air Force: staff
sergeant. Family: Married 1) Mary Ellen Smith in 1959 (divorced 1976),
two sons and one daughter; 2) Nene Humphrey in 1986.
Since 1969 art instructor, professor, Queens College, New York.
Director, Visual Arts Program, National Endowment for the Arts,
Washington, D.C., 1982-84. Since 1987 member, board of directors, The
MacDowell Colony, Artists Talk on Art, Provincetown Work Center,
Creativedrama Society, Atlanta Bureau of Cultural Affairs Gallery.
Awards: John Hay Whitney Fellowship, 1956-66; New York Council on the
Arts fellowships, 1971-81; MacDowell Colony fellowships, 1972-73,
1975-78; National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, 1974-81; O'Hara
Museum Prize, Tokyo, 1976; Bellagio Study and Conference Center
Fellowship, Rockefeller Foundation, Bellagio, Italy; President's
Research Award, Queen's College, 1990. Address: 130 West 26th Street,
New York, New York 10001, U.S.A.
Benny Andrews could be called
a minimalist. His drawings, oils, and collages, created oven the
past forty years, were all done in a similar manner, and Andrews has
been quoted as saying that he was not interested in how much he could
do on canvas but how little. At the beginning of his career,
Andrews always wanted to express black experience through his art, but
he found during his studies at the Chicago Art Institute that it was a
difficult thing to do. Boris Mango and Jack Levine were the
people at the Institute who inspired him to continue to make art in his
Andrews began his own style of painting in the 1960s,
when the collage movement started to flourish. He was using
geometrical forms in his art, and Abstract Expressionism became a
personal movement for him. Even though he may seem to have very
little going on in his pieces, the message for some viewers is as
effective as if the composition were on a much larger scale. His
drawing Mourners (Study for Appalachee Red) from 1977 shows
only the outline of man and a woman with their backs to the
viewers. Their stooped postures in front of a small casket can
make one feel the sadness and the agony of losing a loved one. The Preacher, also from 1977, is a simple drawing that perhaps reminds viewers of early-morning Sunday sermons.
During the 1960s and 1970s Andrews was also busy organizing a crusade
on behalf of the black artist. The Black Emergency Cultural Coalition
became the mouthpiece for the black artist. His 1971 painting No More Games,
located in the New York Museum of Modem Art collection, is about the
plight of black artists. It is a collage of oil and cloth on
canvas, a composition of a dejected male sitting on a box, waiting for
something to happen. On the second panel is a body covered with
an American flag, perhaps suggesting that this person was lynched.
Edmund B. Gaither characterized another Andrews painting entitled Trash as "false religion plus sexism plus militarism plus false democracy equals deception equals trash on waste."
Andrews wanted to express himself differently from other artists in
order to create his own unique individuality. His works are
delicate, subtle, and intimate. Whatever the medium, they are
always linear, narrative, and abstract. He draws from his past
private life in Georgia and his social life in New York. The inclusion
of rugged surfaces, found scraps of papers, cloth, and built-up
sections gives the paintings a "surreal reality" in relation to the
past and present of a person.
His collages are at times
illusionary and representational. Christian imagery is prevalent in his
work, and many of his collages and paintings have referred to the
southern black life, where there was no interference with
religion. A social realist, Andrews believes that art elevates
people, glorifies people's pasts, and builds self-pride.
1962 Forum Gallery, New York
1964 Forum Gallery, New York
1966 Forum Gallery, New York
1971 Studio Museum, New York
1972 ACA Galleries
1973 ACA Galleries
1975 ACA Galleries , Herbert F. Johnson Museum
1976 Lemer-Heller Gallery, New York
1977 Ulrich Museum, Wichita, Kansas
1978 Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut ; Lerner-Heller Gallery, New York ; High Museum, Atlanta, Georgia
1982 Albany Museum of Art, Albany, Georgia
1983 Sid Deutch Gallery, New York
1985 Brooks Museum, Memphis, Tennessee ; Stanback Museum, Orangeburg, South Carolina
1985 Armstrong Gallery, New York ; Gallery 291, Atlanta, Georgia
1987 Shifflett Gallery, Los Angeles
1988 Studio Museum, New York
1989 Studio Museum, New York ; Danville Museum of Fine Arts and History, Virginia
1989 Sherry Washington Fine Arts, Detroit
1989 McIntosh Gallery, Atlanta, Georgia ; Gross MeCleaf Gallery, Philadelphia
Butler Institute of Art, Youngstown, Ohio ; Mississippi Museum of Art,
Jackson ; Triton Museum of Art, Santa Clara, California ; Susan Conway
Carroll Gallery, Washington, D.C.
1993 New Jersey State Museum, Trenton ; Fine Art Museum of the South, Mobile, Alabama ; Arkansas Art Center, Little Rock
Dayton Art Institute, Ohio ; Harriet Tubman Museum, Macon, Georgia ;
Brandywine Print Image Gallery, Philadelphia ; Bill Hodges Gallery, New
Selected Group Exhibitions:
1984 National Academy, New York
1987 Georgia Museum, Athens ; Hecksher Museum, New York
1990 Columbus Museum, Columbus, Georgia
1992 R.F. Brush Art Gallery, Canton, New York
1993 Fine Arts Museum of the South, Mobile, Alabama ; New Jersey State Museum, Trenton
1994 Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, Georgia
1995 High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia ; Glass Museum, New York
Brooks Museum of Art, Tennessee; Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York;
Chrysler Museum ofAtt, Norfolk, Virginia; Columbus Art Museum,
Columbus, Ohio; Detroit Institute of Art; Fine Art Museum, Mobile,
Alabama; High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia; Hirshhorn Museum,
Washington, D.C.; Little Rock Art Center, Little Rock, Arkansas;
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Morris Museum of Art, Augusta,
Georgia; Museum of Modem Art, New York; New Jersey State Museum,
Trenton; Newark Museum of Art, New Jersey; Philadelphia Academy of Art;
Studio Museum, New York; Ulneb Museum of Art, Wichita, Kansas; Wichita
Museum of Art, Wichita, Kansas; Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford,
Articles-"One Understanding Black Art" in New York Times, 27 June 1970; 'The B.E.C.C.," in Arts Magazine, Summer 1970; "Prison Art after a Decade," in American Artists, March 1977; "A Wonderful Potpourri of Styles," in Art Journal, Summer 1980; "Soyers' Work at the Form," in Artworld, November 1985; "Benton's America at the Equitable," in Artworld, November 1985; "Is There a Black Esthetic?" in Art Papers,
November/December 1985; "Decentralization: the Greening of America," in
Art Papers, March/April 1986; "The Mule Is about Keeping On,"American
Visions, April 1988.
|Biography from Charleston Renaissance Gallery:|
|BENNY ANDREWS (1930-2006)|
Artist, teacher, activist, critic, and author Benny Andrews ascended from the humblest of Southern beginnings to the loftiest stages of American art. A native of rural Georgia, Andrews was one of ten children born to sharecropper parents. Though his proper schooling was necessarily sporadic, Andrews and his siblings were encouraged in their education and talents by their father, a folk artist, and mother, a writer. Upon his graduation from high school, Andrews attended college for two years before joining the military. Following his discharge from the Air Force in 1954, Andrews, who had never before received formal art instruction or been to a museum, enrolled at the Art Institute of Chicago*.
While in Chicago, Andrews created line drawings and paintings, drawing on his rich childhood memories as well as observations of city life. He also began working with collage*, a movement gaining popularity at the time. These works, which often include found objects and common materials, reflect the “influences of abstraction, social realism, surrealism, and the American scene.” The collages, for which Andrews is best known, are often executed in series and explore themes of particular interest to the artist, including Christianity and the black experience in the United States.
Andrews received a B.F.A. from the Art Institute in 1956 and relocated to New York City, where he soon established a thriving career as a collage artist, painter, print maker*, and book illustrator. He simultaneously began a twenty-nine-year teaching career at Queens College. His work received both critical praise and commercial acceptance. Elected to the National Academy of Design* in 1977, he was awarded premier fellowships and exhibited widely in this country and abroad.
Today, his work is found in the collection of major museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Smithsonian Institution, and Modern Museum of Art. A passionate arts advocate, especially for the work of minority and female artists, Andrews served as Director of the Visual Arts of the National Endowment for the Arts from 1982 to 1984.
This essay is copyrighted by the Charleston Renaissance Gallery and may not be reproduced or transmitted without written permission from Hicklin Galleries, LLC.
* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see AskART.com Glossary http://www.askart.com/AskART/lists/Art_Definition.aspx
|Biography from Morris Museum of Art:|
|Benny Andrews was born on November 13, 1930, in Plainview, Georgia, a rural farming community sixty miles east of Atlanta. His parents, George and Viola (Perryman) Andrews, provided an encouraging and creative environment for their ten children despite their poverty and the realities of segregation. Although isolated geographically, the tight-knit family had access to newspapers, magazines, and radio programs, and attended the movies in nearby Madison, Georgia. They developed a rich narrative tradition based on their complex racial heritage, local legends, and observations of members of their community. Benny’s distinctive figurative style is a result of his continued exploration of American life that was informed by his youth. |
The family worked as sharecroppers, and Viola, knowing the importance of education, made sure that her children attended school when it rained or when they were not needed as field hands. Although Benny’s education was sporadic, he distinguished himself with his talent in drawing and used it as a survival tool to get through school. After several years at Plainview Elementary School, he walked three miles to attend Burney Street High School in Madison, and in 1948 he was the first member of the family to graduate. A two-year scholarship from the 4-H Club enabled him to enroll at Fort Valley State College in Fort Valley, Georgia. His grades were dismal and, with only a single art appreciation course available, his two years there were unsuccessful; but Benny served as an example to his siblings of the possibilities that existed beyond the farm. In 1950 he left school and enlisted in the United States Air Force. Benny used the G.I. Bill to partially fund his art education when he received his honorable discharge in 1954.
In the fall of that year, Benny began classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He had never before visited a museum or had a formal art lesson. Benny studied the collection of the Art Institute, wandered the city, frequented the jazz clubs, and sketched the gestures and expressions of the people he observed. His drawings and paintings employed an economy of line, figures were elongated in order to emphasize gesture, and for the first time, he experimented with collage. The dominant art movement at the time was abstract expressionism, but Benny adhered to his figural expressionistic style, which bears the influences of abstraction, social realism, surrealism, and the American scene. When he was awarded a B.F.A. degree in 1958, he left Chicago having had his work rejected from every art show at his school.
Benny headed for New York City and within a decade became a nationally recognized artist, teacher, author, activist, and advocate of the arts. His work was quickly accepted for exhibition in New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, Provincetown, and Virginia. He married and his family grew to include three children—Christopher, Thomas, and Julia. In 1965 he used a John Hay Whitney Fellowship award to visit Georgia. He produced the Autobiographical series as a result of the trip. It also established his penchant for producing series of works that are unified by a theme. Subsequent series are Bicentennial, Women I’ve Known, Completing the Circle, Mule, Southland, American, Cruelty and Sorrows, Revival, Music, Langston Hughes, and Migration.
Benny’s commitment to the arts is expressed in his work as a teacher, activist, and advocate. He began his teaching career at Queens College (C.U.N.Y.) and, after twenty-nine years, retired as a full professor. He continues to serve as a visiting lecturer at numerous colleges and universities across the country. Benny initiated an art program in the New York state prison system that serves as a model for other programs throughout the country. He was a cofounder of the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition, which led protests and negotiations with large public institutions in order to include the work of minority and women artists in their permanent collections and exhibitions. Benny served as the Director of the Visual Arts of the National Endowment for the Arts from 1982 through 1984. When his brother Raymond published his first novel, Appalachee Red, Benny illustrated it. He illustrated his brother’s subsequent novels and continues to illustrate books by other authors. Recently he and his wife, Nene Humphrey, established the Benny Andrews Foundation, which is committed to projects designed to bring art enrichment to a diverse audience.
Benny has served as a curator, critic, and writer. He was elected to the National Academy of Design in 1997 and has received numerous awards and accolades. He maintains studios in Brooklyn, New York, and Litchfield, Connecticut. His work is found in more than thirty major museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Hirshhorn Museum, Brooklyn Museum of Art, Morris Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Newark Museum, Studio Museum in Harlem, Detroit Institute of Arts, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, and the National Museum of African Art, as well as many private collections.
[Note: The museum listing is in addition to the sixteen museums listed on the current Benny Andrews entry.]
Karen Towers Klacsmann
Adjunct Assistant Curator/Research
Morris Museum of Art
|Biography from The Columbus Museum of Art, Georgia:|
|Picture a small boy of mixed racial ancestry, drawing with a rusty nail
in red Georgia dirt. This soil was his first canvas. Benny
Andrews, son of a sharecropper, was raised on a tenant farm in rural
Georgia along with nine other siblings. Through humble beginnings
and racial roadblocks, he has become a highly accomplished collagist,
yet he has never tried to brush off the dirt. Andrews’ roots are
firmly planted in Southern soil and he treats his compositions with
affection and dignity. |
Andrews’ father, George, was an imaginative folk artist and his mother,
Viola, became a writer. His brother, Raymond, was also an
author. Andrews credits his mother for encouraging his art by
supplying him and the rest of her children with pencils, crayons and
paper whenever she could scrape up a little extra money.
There seems to be boundless talent in the Andrews family.
In 1948, Andrews received a $400 scholarship to attend Valley State
College in Georgia. In 1950, when the scholarship money ran out,
he joined the Air Force and served in the Korean War. In 1954, he
entered the Art Institute of Chicago, where he graduated in 1958 with a
BFA degree. He headed directly for the center of the art world,
New York City—“The place I’d always set out to come to.”
In a 1988 interview with Judd Tully, he said that Jan Vermeer and Franz
Kline are his favorite artists, especially Vermeer, as the artist
“expresses much more than you visually see.”
As cited earlier, Andrews is largely known as a collage artist.
He is that, but also, a painter, a printmaker, a book illustrator, a
writer and critic, a lecturer and a professor of painting and drawing
at Queens College of New York. It would be a mistake not to
mention his wonderful line drawings. He always does his collages
in series. He uses found objects and
fabrics to add a physical reality to his work. He selects
that connote the status and occupation of the figure or figures
He has been active in outreach programs across the country and has long
been an advocate for the inclusion of African-American artists and
women artists in America’s museums and galleries. Andrews served
as Director of the Visual Art Program at the National Endowment for the
Arts for two years. (1982-84).
He has received numerous awards and fellowships to include the John Jay
Whitney and the Rockefeller Foundation fellowships. He lives in
Connecticut with his artist wife, Nene Humphrey, and maintains studios
in New York City and Madison, Georgia.
Written by Ellie Wheeler for Columbus Museum
|Biography from University of Maryland Art Gallery:|
|Born in 1930, one of ten children in a Georgia farming family, Benny
Andrews grew up desperately poor. After serving in the U.S. Air
Force, he studied at the Art Institute of Chicago on the G.I.
Bill. He differed from his fellow students, mostly Abstract
Expressionists, by going off to jazz clubs to draw. In 1958, he
moved to New York, where his artist friends included Red Grooms, Bob
Thompson and the Soyer brothers. For two years (1982-84), he served as
director of the Visual Art Program for the National Endowment for the
Arts, after which he returned to full-time painting.|
of influence coexist in Andrews's art. The first is an exuberant
regionalism that takes into account the lives of the poor; Andrews sees
a precedent in the work of Thomas Hart Benton. The second is the
narrative impulse of much African-American painting, including that of
outstanding modernists such as Romare Bearden and Jacob Lawrence, who
invested their renderings of black life with dignity and pathos. It is
possible to see Andrews as continuing to work in the vein of
storytelling. However, his art is also about the ongoing project of
exploring what it means to be American. Andrews, who sees himself as an
inheritor of several cultures, has said, "It bothers me not being seen
as a complicated individual. It's much easier [for people to typecast
me] as regional or representational or Southern or black."
Andrews's paintings celebrate daily life. Among the 33 works, all dated 2002, in his ACA show was Living Room Dancing,
in which a slender black man in a colorfully striped jacket dances to a
tune on the radio. The scene is depicted in 1950s style. The
dancer's delight is clearly communicated, and the painting's strong
compositional balance pushes the work beyond appealing illustration.
In his oil and collage paintings of art receptions, Andrews captures
the talking heads engrossed in their exchange as they stand before the
paintings. In Love offers a couple in wedding attire standing
in front of several works of art; a wedding cake and bouquet of flowers
are prominent. In a complex work titled Museum Maze, we
see people gazing at a number of objects, an oversize sculpture of a
general and an all-black abstract painting among them. There is
the sense here that Andrews appreciates the way art can move people,
the way it can convey the experiences and dignity of ordinary life.
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