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Benny Andrews

 (1930 - 2006)
Benny Andrews was active/lived in New York, Georgia.  Benny Andrews is known for ethnic genre painting, abstraction, collage.

Benny Andrews

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Benny Andrews
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.

Sources include:
Art in America, December 2002
Death notice from Mark Garner, Ogden Museum of  Southern Art, New Orleans, LA

Biography from
Biography photo for Benny Andrews
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.

Career: 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 own way.

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.

Individual Exhibitions:

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

1992 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

1995 Dayton Art Institute, Ohio ; Harriet Tubman Museum, Macon, Georgia ; Brandywine Print Image Gallery, Philadelphia ; Bill Hodges Gallery, New York

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


Memphis 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, Connecticut.


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 The Johnson Collection
"I express myself best artistically somewhere between the ideas in my head and the tip of my brush, because none of my finished canvases or any oral statements I am able to make are completely artistically successful. Therefore, I am destined to spend my life pushing my feelings towards the canvas and pulling them toward my mouth in order to satisfy this insatiable need to express myself." Benny Andrews' self-described need for expression began at an early age. His parents, sharecroppers of mixed race descent, struggled to bring up their ten children with dignity in rural, segregated Georgia. In spite of their poverty, education and creative endeavors were a priority in the Andrews home. Their son would rise from this modest start to achieve worldwide regard as an artist, teacher, writer, and social activist, and would draw on his Southern heritage as an enduring source of inspiration.

Upon his graduation from high school in 1948, Benny Andrews attended an historically black college outside of Macon for two years, taking the only art class offered there six times. In 1950, he enlisted in the Air Force and rose to the rank of staff sergeant before his discharge four years later. A beneficiary of the G. I. Bill, Andrews enrolled at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1954. During his time at the Institute, the artist recalled that he "was rejected for every show, organization, or club." Andrews received a B.F.A. from the Art Institute in 1958 and relocated to New York City, where he soon established a thriving career as a collage artist, painter, printmaker, book illustrator, and teacher. His work, represented in important annual exhibitions and high profile galleries, attracted critical praise and commercial success. 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.

A rich melange of aesthetic influences can be seen in Andrews' wholly unique ouevre: social realism, cubism, surrealism, and abstract expressionism. The collages for which he is best known reflect his desire to transcend the limitations of two-dimensional work or any particular school of aesthetic thought. Assembled of ordinary materials such as torn paper, fabrics, or foil, Andrews' collages serially pursued a variety of topics of keen importance to the artist: race, religion, politics, patriotism, and humanism.

Elected to the National Academy of Design in 1997, Benny Andrews was awarded prestigious fellowships and exhibited widely in this country and abroad. Today, his work can be found in the collections of major American museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Detroit Institute of Art, Studio Museum of Harlem, and many more.

Created as an illustration to a poem of the same title by Langston Hughes, Walkers with the Dawn is a visual expression of the poet and artist's shared hope for a new era of equality and opportunity for African Americans: "Being walkers with the dawn and morning/Walkers with the sun and morning/We are not afraid of night/Nor days of gloom/Nor darkness/ Being walkers with the sun and morning." The two colorfully clad figures—leaning backwards and physically open to possibility—appear to have abandoned themselves to a joyful moment.

The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, South Carolina

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 Glossary

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
Augusta, Georgia

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 materials that connote the status and occupation of the figure or figures featured.

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 UMUC
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.

Two kinds 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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About  Benny Andrews

Born:  1930 - Plainview, Georgia
Died:   2006 - Brooklyn, New York
Known for:  ethnic genre painting, abstraction, collage

Essays referring to
Benny Andrews

Black American Artists