American, 1930 - 2006
Works on Paper
Benny Andrews was born in 1930s Georgia, in a farming community sixty miles from Atlanta. His sharecropper parents provided a creative environment for their children despite poverty and the realities of segregation, and they encouraged a rich narrative tradition based on racial heritage, local legends, and observations of their community. Andrews’s distinctive figurative style is a result of his exploration of American life, informed by his youth.
In 1954 Andrews began classes at the Art Institute of Chicago, having never visited a museum or had a formal art lesson. He studied the collection there, wandered the city, frequented jazz clubs, and sketched people he observed. His adopted an economy of line, attenuated figures and emphasized gesture, and for the first time experimented with collage. While Abstract Expressionism dominated the art scene, Andrews adhered to an expressionistic figural style, integrating aspects of abstraction with social realism.
Andrews moved to New York in 1958 and within a decade became a nationally recognized artist. In 1965 he used a John Hay Whitney Fellowship award to visit Georgia and produced an Autobiographical series from the trip. This established his penchant for producing series unified by a theme, and numerous series followed for the remainder of his career.
In addition to his art, Andrews is known work as a teacher, activist, and advocate. He was professor at Queens College, NY for 29 years, lecturer at numerous universities, initiated an art program in the New York state prison system that serves as a model for programs throughout the country, and was a co-founder of the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition which encouraged public institutions to include the work of minority and women artists in their collections. Andrews has served as a curator, critic, and writer and has received numerous awards and accolades for his work in and out of the studio.