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Andrews, Benny 1930–

Benny Andrews 1930

Artist, activist

Encouraged by Artist Father

Fought for Recognition of Black Artists

Continued to Pursue Representational Art

Sources

Benny Andrews, a painter and collage artist, has spent his entire career working outside the main-stream of American art. During the 1950s and 1960s, when the art world was dominated by abstract painting, Andrews insisted on pursuing his primary interest: capturing ordinary people on canvas. He continues to create representational artwork today.There are not many artists in the twentieth century who have had that kind of concern for simple people, for the dignity of people no matter where they come from, and who manage to communicate that spiritual dignity in a very physical way, Michael Brenson, art critic and curator, said in the documentary video Benny Andrews: The Visible Man.

Although originally dismissed as a regional artist, Andrews, who was born and raised in Georgia, eventually managed to find a place for himself in the art world. In addition to his success as a painter, Andrews earned a reputation as a political activist, fighting for recognition of African American artists and culture.

Andrewss themes and techniques identify him as a great Southern African American artist, Grady T. Turner wrote in a review that appeared in Art in America. But in a broader sense, his worksconvey a humanist sensibility that largely skipped the art mainstream of his generation. His social concerns made him hard to place in an era dominated by formal concerns, but today he can be seen as a spiritual predecessor of many contemporary artists.

Encouraged by Artist Father

Benny Andrews was born on November 13, 1930, in Madison, Georgia; he was the second of a family of ten children. His parents, George and Viola (formerly Perryman) Andrews, were sharecroppers, the lowest form of human work one could ever imagine, Andrews was quoted as saying in World Artists.

Benny was only allowed to attend high school during the winter months, when he was not needed to pick or plant cotton. My parentsalways read and subscribed to newspapers and magazines, and we had a radio, which was rather unusual, Andrews stated in Benny Andrews: The Visible Man. We also went to the movies a lot, and those were the kind of things that supplemented a very poor education.

While in many ways he had a typical Southern upbringing, the Andrews family placed an atypically high value on

At a Glance

Born Benny Andrews, November 13, 1930, Madi son, GA; son of George and Viola (Perryman) Andrews, sharecroppers; married Mary Ellen Smith, 1957 (divorced 1976), two sons and one daughter; married Nene Humphrey, 1986. Education: Fort Valley State College, Fort Vally, GA, 194850; School of the Art Institute of Chicago, BFA, 1958. Milit&ry Service: United States Air Force, staff sergeant, 195054.

Career: Artist. Art instructor, Queens College, New York, beginning in 1969; co-founder, Black Emergency Culture Coalition, late 1960s; director, Visual Arts Program, National Endowment for the Arts, 198284.

Selected awards: John Hay Whitney Fellowship, 196566; New York Council on the Arts fellowships, 197181; National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, 197481.

Selected solo exhibitions: Paul Kessler Gallery, Provincetown, MA, 196070; Forum Gallery, New York, 1962, 1964, 1966; Studio Museum, Harlem, 1971; High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA, 1978; Sid Deutch Gallery, New York, 1983; Brooks Museum, Memphis, TN, 1985; Studio Museum, New York, 1971, 1988, 1989; Arkansas Art Center, Little Rock, AR, 1993.

Addresses: HomeNew York, NY.

creative pursuits. George Andrews was a prolific, self-taught artistyears later, Georges and Bennys work appeared togetherin an exhibit that traveled to several museumsand both parents encouraged the children to draw and paint. They complimented us on what we did. They encouraged us to do things, Andrews commented in Benny Andrews: The Visible Man. It was not geared to any career or anything, it was just more or less to express yourself. The encouragement worked; while Benny became a successful visual artist, another brother, Raymond, wrote several acclaimed novels.

After graduating from Burney Street High School in 1948, Andrews received a college scholarship for his work in the local 4-H organization. He spent a summer in Atlanta painting murals, then enrolled in Georgias Fort Valley State College. Two years later, when the scholarship ended, he enlisted in the Air Force. Andrews trained in Texas, then served in Korea until 1954, attaining the rank of staff sergeant.

Returning to civilian life, Andrews enrolled at the prestigious School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Ironically, the Souths segregated school system helped to make this advancement possible: rather than admit black students to all-white institutions, Georgia paid partial tuition for them to attend college out of state.

The Art Institute opened his eyes to a world that Andrews had never before experienced. The first museum I went to was when I went to school at the Art Institute. I was 24-years old, hesaid in Benny Andrews: The Visible Man. During this period, Andrews began experimenting with collage, a medium that he explored throughout his career. I started working in collage because I foundI didnt want to lose my sense of rawness, Andrews stated inFolk: The Art of Benny and George Andrews. I didnt realize it at first but in a sense, Im really constructing, not painting my workI needed something both tactile and tangible.

In the 1950s, abstract expressionist painting dominated the art world, and the Art Institute was no exception. Andrews, who insisted on pursuing representational painting with a political sensibility, found little support for his work. Needless to say, in the eyes of the school, I was a total failure, and I found that very easy to live within fact I gained a certain amount of strength from the academics utter dislike of what I chose to do, Andrews said in World Artists.

During his years at art school, Andrews earned money as an illustrator for record companies, creating covers for Duke Ellington and other top musicians. Blue Note, which gained recognition for its innovative cover designs, bought his work regularly. Andrews also drew advertising illustrations for various theater companies in Chicago.

Andrews married Mary Ellen Smith, a photographer, in 1957 (one source says 1959), and earned his BFA in 1958. Soon aftergraduating, the couple moved to New York, settling on the Lower East Side. During the next seven years, they had two sons, Christopher and Thomas, and a daughter, Julia. His wife took an office job to support the family, while Andrews stayed at home, took care of the children, and painted.

In New York, as in Chicago, Andrews found that most galleries and museums focused on abstract work rather than representational art. As a result, critical acceptance and gallery exhibitions were slow in coming. He developed a powerful figurative art which was overlooked for some years as regionalist or retrograde, Patricia P. Bladon wrote in Folk: The Art of Benny and George Andrews. His work was also neglected by galleries and critics, even in the free-spirited sixties.

Fought for Recognition of Black Artists

After years of struggling, Andrews slowly began to achieve some recognition for his art. Between 1960 and 1970, he had eleven solo shows at the Paul Kessler Gallery in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and three at the Forum Gallery in New York City. In 1965, Andrews received a John Hay Whitney Fellowship, which was renewed the following year.

In spite of his personal success, Andrews felt increasingly-bitter about the art worlds lack of recognition for African American artists and culture. In the late 1960s Andrews organized a group called the Black Emergency Culture Coalition, which included over 150 black artists. In 1969 the group held a demonstration against the exhibit Harlem on My Mind at New Yorks Metropolitan Museum of Art. No black scholars or historians had participated in organizing the show, which Andrews saw as a continuation of the paternalistic approach to understanding African American culture (quoted as saying in World Artists). Though I never enjoyed picketing or being vocal in public forums about obvious racism in cultural institutions, I never had second thoughts about my responsibility to protest, Andrews wrote in the essay Roads, printed in Folk: The Art of Benny and George Andrews.

The coalitions next target was the Whitney Museum of American Art, also based in New York City. The museums permanent collection contained only ten works by black artists, and its biennial exhibitions rarely included works by African Americans or women. In 1969 the museums curators agreed to hold an exhibition titled Contemporary Black Artists in America, but the coalition objected to the way it was handled and decided to boycott the show. Of the 75 artists scheduled to participate in the exhibition, 15 withdrew in sympathy with the boycott.

In 1971, 50 black artists participated in the show Rebuttal to the Whitney Museum Exhibition at the Acts of Art Galleries inNew York. Two years later, Andrews curated an exhibition of work by black artists, titled Blacks: USA: 1973 at the New York Cultural Center. The show was what should have been mounted at the Whitney, Andrews asserted.

In addition to his painting and political activism, Andrews taught art classes in prisons, and headed a volunteer program for the Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Beginning in 1969, Andrews worked as an art instructor at Queens College in New York. The following year, Andrews wrote an essay titled On Understanding Black Art, which appeared in the New York Times. Since then, Andrews has contributed numerous articles to arts publications, including Artworld, Art Papers, and American Visions.

From 1982 to 1984, Andrews held the position of visual arts director at the National Endowment for the Arts. During his tenure, he established many outreach programs throughout the country. Hes just had an incredible leadership role with different groups, Jane Farver, director of exhibitions at Queens Museum, was quoted as saying in Benny Andrews: The Visible Man. Whathedid to open doors for other people cant be overestimated its enormous, what hes done.

Continued to Pursue Representational Art

Andrews has received numerous prestigious awards for his art, including fellowships from the New York Council on the Arts and National Endowment for the Arts. His work appears in the collections of more than 20 museums nationwide. These include the Detroit Institute of Art; the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia; the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the Philadelphia Academy of Art. In 1986, Andrews married artist Nene Humphrey, having divorced his first wife ten years earlier.

In 1990, the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art in Memphis, Tennessee, staged the exhibition, Folk: The Art of Benny and George Andrews. The exhibition, which demonstrated the influence of the folk artist George on the trained artist Benny, later traveled to six other museums. Both are inexplicably unique; yet, somehow each amplifies and crystallizes the others voice and vision, wrote Judd Tully in the catalog for the exhibition.

Some critics have claimed that Andrews interest in collage refers back to his childhood, when art materials were scarce but the desire to create was too strong to ignore. Collage is at the heart of his art, J. Richard Gruber, deputy director of the Morris Museum of Art, said in Benny Andrews: The Visible Man. He grew up using anything he could, as did his father as an artist, as did his family And to the present day he uses what is at handfabric, scrapsand reuses works until theyve foundtheir proper home.

In his drawings, paintings, and collages, Andrews continues to pursue representational art, which has been his focus throughout his long career. Benny Andrews is a remarkable draftsman whose work is characterized by great economy of means, Patricia P. Bladon wrote in Folk: The Art of Benny and George Andrews. He infuses his drawings with the same integrity and passion which characterize his large-scale paintings.

Given the seismic shifts in the art world since the late 1950s, Andrewss career is striking in its continuity, Grady T. Turner wrote in a review that appeared in Art in America. As an art student, he found an expressionistic figurative style that he continues to develop to this day, when it seems fresher and more relevant than ever.

While Andrews struggled for recognitionfor himself as an artist, for other African American artists, and for African American culture in generalfame has never been his primary goal. Do something you like to do, was the advice he gave in the video Benny Andrews: The Visible Man. If you like to write, if you like to sing, if you like to dance, do it for the pleasure of doing it.If you develop your imagination, you can almost do anything.

Sources

Art in America, February 1998, p. 105.

Benny Andrews: TheVisibleMan (documentary video), by Linda Freeman and David Irving, L & S Video, 1996.

Folk: The Art of Benny and George Andrews (exhibition catalog), by Patricia P. Bladon and Judd Tully, Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, 1990.

St. James Guide to Black Artists. St. James Press, 1997.

World Artists, 19501980. H.W. Wilson, 1984.

Carrie Golus

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Andrews, Benny

Benny Andrews

1930–2006

Artist, activist

Benny Andrews, a painter and collage artist, spent his entire career working outside the mainstream of American art. During the 1950s and 1960s, when the art world was dominated by abstract painting, Andrews insisted on pursuing his primary interest: capturing ordinary people on canvas. He continued to create representational artwork throughout his career. "There are not many artists in the twentieth century who have had that kind of concern for simple people, for the dignity of people no matter where they come from, and who manage to communicate that spiritual dignity in a very physical way," Michael Brenson, art critic and curator, said in the documentary video Benny Andrews: The Visible Man.

Found a Place in the Art World

Although originally dismissed as a "regional" artist, Andrews, who was born and raised in Georgia, eventually managed to find a place for himself in the art world. In addition to his success as a painter, Andrews earned a reputation as a political activist, fighting for recognition of African-American artists and culture. "Andrews's themes and techniques identify him as a great Southern African American artist," Grady T. Turner wrote in a review that appeared in Art in America in 1998. "But in a broader sense, his works convey a humanist sensibility that largely skipped the art mainstream of his generation. His social concerns made him hard to place in an era dominated by formal concerns, but today he can be seen as a spiritual predecessor of many contemporary artists."

Benny Andrews was born on November 13, 1930, near Madison, Georgia; he was the second of a family of ten children. His parents, George and Viola (formerly Perryman) Andrews, were sharecroppers, "the lowest form of human work one could ever imagine," Andrews was quoted as saying in World Artists.

Benny was only allowed to attend high school during the winter months, when he was not needed to pick or plant cotton. "My parents … always read and subscribed to newspapers and magazines, and we had a radio, which was rather unusual," Andrews stated in Benny Andrews: The Visible Man. "We also went to the movies a lot, and those were the kind of things that supplemented a very poor education."

While in many ways he had a typical Southern upbringing, the Andrews family placed an atypically high value on creative pursuits. George Andrews was a prolific, self-taught artist—years later, George's and Benny's work appeared together in an exhibit that traveled to several museums—and both parents encouraged the children to draw and paint. "They complimented us on what we did. They encouraged us to do things," Andrews commented in Benny Andrews: The Visible Man. "It was not geared to any career or anything, it was just more or less to express yourself." The encouragement worked; while Benny became a successful visual artist, another brother, Raymond, wrote several acclaimed novels.

Gained Strength through Individuality

After graduating from Burney Street High School in 1948, Andrews received a college scholarship for his work in the local 4-H organization. He spent a summer in Atlanta painting murals, then earned a scholarship to attend Georgia's Fort Valley State College. Two years later, when the scholarship ended, he enlisted in the Air Force. Andrews trained in Texas, then served in Korea until 1954, attaining the rank of staff sergeant.

Returning to civilian life, Andrews enrolled at the prestigious School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Ironically, the South's segregated school system helped to make this advancement possible: rather than admit black students to all-white institutions, Georgia paid partial tuition for them to attend college out of state.

The Art Institute opened his eyes to a world that Andrews had never before experienced. "The first museum I went to was when I went to school at the Art Institute. I was 24-years old," he said in Benny Andrews: The Visible Man. During this period, Andrews began experimenting with collage, a medium that he explored throughout his career. "I started working in collage because I found … I didn't want to lose my sense of rawness," Andrews stated in Folk: The Art of Benny and George Andrews. "I didn't realize it at first but in a sense, I'm really constructing, not painting my work … I needed something both tactile and tangible."

In the 1950s, abstract expressionist painting dominated the art world, and the Art Institute was no exception. Andrews, who insisted on pursuing representational painting with a political sensibility, found little support for his work. "Needless to say, in the eyes of the school, I was a total failure, and I found that very easy to live with—in fact I gained a certain amount of strength from the academics' utter dislike of what I chose to do," Andrews said in World Artists.

Worked Towards Recognition

During his years at art school, Andrews earned money as an illustrator for record companies, creating covers for Duke Ellington and other top musicians. Blue Note, which gained recognition for its innovative cover designs, bought his work regularly. Andrews also drew advertising illustrations for various theater companies in Chicago.

Andrews married Mary Ellen Smith, a photographer, in 1957 (one source says 1959), and earned his BFA in 1958. Soon after graduating, the couple moved to New York, settling on the Lower East Side. During the next seven years, they had two sons, Christopher and Thomas, and a daughter, Julia. His wife took an office job to support the family, while Andrews stayed at home, took care of the children, and painted.

In New York, as in Chicago, Andrews found that most galleries and museums focused on abstract work rather than representational art. As a result, critical acceptance and gallery exhibitions were slow in coming. "He developed a powerful figurative art which was overlooked for some years as regionalist or retrograde," Patricia P. Bladon wrote in Folk: The Art of Benny and George Andrews. "His work was also neglected by galleries and critics, even in the free-spirited sixties."

After years of struggling, Andrews slowly began to achieve some recognition for his art. Between 1960 and 1970, he had eleven solo shows at the Paul Kessler Gallery in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and three at the Forum Gallery in New York City. In 1965, Andrews received a John Hay Whitney Fellowship, which was renewed the following year.

At a Glance …

Born Benny Andrews on November 13, 1930, near Madison, GA; died November 10, 2006, Brooklyn, NY; son of George and Viola (Perryman) Andrews, sharecroppers; married Mary Ellen Smith, 1957 (divorced 1976); married Nene Humphrey, 1986; children: two sons and one daughter (first marriage). Education: Fort Valley State College, Fort Valley, GA, 1948–50; School of the Art Institute of Chicago, BFA, 1958. Military service: United States Air Force, staff sergeant, 1950–54.

Career: Artist, 1960s–2006. Queens College, New York, Art instructor, 1969–97; Black Emergency Culture Coalition, co-founder, late 1960s; National Endowment for the Arts, Visual Arts Program, director, 1982–84.

Selected awards: John Hay Whitney Fellowship, 1965–66; New York Council on the Arts fellowships, 1971–81; National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, 1974–81.

Championed Black Artists

In spite of his personal success, Andrews felt increasingly bitter about the art world's lack of recognition for African American artists and culture. In the late 1960s Andrews organized a group called the Black Emergency Culture Coalition, which included over 150 black artists. In 1969 the group held a demonstration against the exhibit "Harlem on My Mind" at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. No black scholars or historians had participated in organizing the show, which Andrews saw as "a continuation of the paternalistic approach" to understanding African American culture (quoted as saying in World Artists). "Though I never enjoyed picketing or being vocal in public forums about obvious racism in cultural institutions, I never had second thoughts about my responsibility to protest," Andrews wrote in the essay "Roads," printed in Folk: The Art of Benny and George Andrews.

The coalition's next target was the Whitney Museum of American Art, also based in New York City. The museum's permanent collection contained only ten works by black artists, and its biennial exhibitions rarely included works by African Americans or women. In 1969 the museum's curators agreed to hold an exhibition titled "Contemporary Black Artists in America," but the coalition objected to the way it was handled and decided to boycott the show. Of the 75 artists scheduled to participate in the exhibition, 15 withdrew in sympathy with the boycott.

In 1971, 50 black artists participated in the show "Rebuttal to the Whitney Museum Exhibition" at the Acts of Art Galleries in New York. Two years later, Andrews curated an exhibition of work by black artists, titled "Blacks: USA: 1973" at the New York Cultural Center. The show was what should have been mounted at the Whitney, Andrews asserted.

Promoted Art through Education, Outreach

In addition to his painting and political activism, Andrews taught art classes in prisons, and headed a volunteer program for the Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Beginning in 1969, Andrews worked as an art instructor at Queens College in New York. The following year, Andrews wrote an essay titled "On Understanding Black Art," which appeared in the New York Times. For years after, Andrews contributed numerous articles to arts publications, including Artworld, Art Papers, and American Visions.

From 1982 to 1984, Andrews held the position of visual arts director at the National Endowment for the Arts. During his tenure, he established many outreach programs throughout the country. "He's just had an incredible leadership role with different groups …," Jane Farver, director of exhibitions at Queens Museum, was quoted as saying in Benny Andrews: The Visible Man. "What he did to open doors for other people can't be overestimated—it's enormous, what he's done."

Andrews received numerous prestigious awards for his art, including fellowships from the New York Council on the Arts and National Endowment for the Arts. His work appeared in the collections of more than 20 museums nationwide. These include the Detroit Institute of Art; the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia; the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the Philadelphia Academy of Art.

In 1990, the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art in Memphis, Tennessee, staged the exhibition, "Folk: The Art of Benny and George Andrews." The exhibition, which demonstrated the influence of the folk art of the father on the trained work of the son, later traveled to six other museums. "Both are inexplicably unique; yet, somehow each amplifies and crystallizes the other's voice and vision," wrote Judd Tully in the catalog for the exhibition.

A Lifetime of Creating Art

In his drawings, paintings, and collages, Andrews pursued representational art throughout his long career. His skill as a draftsman was "remarkable" and his work was "characterized by great economy of means," wrote Patricia P. Bladon in Folk: The Art of Benny and George Andrews. But "collage is at the heart of his art …," J. Richard Gruber, deputy director of the Morris Museum of Art, said in Benny Andrews: The Visible Man. Some critics claimed that Andrews' interest in collage referred back to his childhood, when art materials were scarce but the desire to create was too strong to ignore. "He grew up using anything he could, as did his father as an artist, as did his family …," noted Gruber. "Given the seismic shifts in the art world since the late 1950s," wrote Grady T. Turner in an Art in America review, Andrews' career was "striking in its continuity" and his style had come to seem "fresher and more relevant" over the years.

Andrews' pursuit of art stemmed from his genuine interest in expressing himself through it. "Do something you like to do," was the advice he gave in the video Benny Andrews: The Visible Man. "If you like to write, if you like to sing, if you like to dance, do it for the pleasure of doing it…. If you develop your imagination, you can almost do anything." The body of his work revealed that he followed his own advice, and he remained an active artist up until his death. Andrews died on November 10, 2006, in his home in Brooklyn, New York. "Ultimately his art transcended all categories," J. Richard Gruber, director of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, which holds the largest collection of Andrews' work, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Andrews, he said, "was one of the most important figures in American art. Period."

Selected works

Selected solo exhibitions

Paul Kessler Gallery, Provincetown, MA, 1960–70.
Forum Gallery, New York, 1962, 1964, 1966.
Studio Museum, Harlem, 1971.
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA, 1978.
Sid Deutch Gallery, New York, 1983.
Brooks Museum, Memphis, TN, 1985.
Studio Museum, New York, 1971, 1988, 1989.
Arkansas Art Center, Little Rock, AR, 1993.
ACA Galleries, New York, NY, 1997, 2001.

Sources

Books

American Icons: From Madison to Manhattan, the Art of Benny Andrews, 1948–1997, Morris Museum of Art, 1997.

Between the Lines: 70 Drawings and 7 Essays, Pella, 1978.

Folk: The Art of Benny and George Andrews, Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, 1990.

St. James Guide to Black Artists, St. James Press, 1997.

World Artists, 1950–1980. H.W. Wilson, 1984.

Periodicals

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, November 12, 2006, p. A1.

Art in America, February 1998, p. 105; May 2003.

Los Angeles Times, November 14, 2006, p. B11.

New York Times, November 12, 2006, p. 32.

Other

Benny Andrews: The Visible Man (documentary video), by Linda Freeman and David Irving, L & S Video, 1996.

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Andrews, Benny

Benny Andrews

Benny Andrews (born 1930) began his artistic career as an outsider, working in a representational style just as abstract expressionism was gaining popularity. By refusing to yield to artistic trends, Andrews has carved out a long and respected career as a painter and collage artist with works in many major museums and galleries. He is also known for his work as an activist, educator, and philanthropist, paving the way for young individualists to follow in his footsteps.

Parents Encouraged Creative Pursuits

Andrews was born on November 13, 1930, in Madison, Georgia, the second of George and Viola (Perryman) Andrews' ten children. While Andrews' parents were cotton sharecroppers, George was also a self–taught artist and Viola was a writer. Both encouraged their children's creative pursuits, especially drawing and painting. Andrews was not the only member of the clan to gain acclaim for his artistic endeavors. His brother Raymond grew up to be a successful novelist and his father's artwork was also exhibited in the elder Andrews' later years.

Formal education did not come easily to Andrews. He attended a segregated elementary school in a one–and–a–half room log cabin and, as a student at Burney High School, experienced long interruptions in his schooling when his assistance was required on the plantation where his family lived and worked. Even with sporadic attendance, however, Andrews established his artistic talent, and regularly contributed drawings for class projects in biology, geometry, and home economics. He also became active in the local 4–H Club, an agricultural program for youth.

In 1948, after graduating from Burney High, Andrews moved to Atlanta, where he lived at the Butler Street YMCA. The executive director there helped Andrews find a job and provided him with work space when the young artist received a commission to paint a mural for a local café. Later that year, the 4–H Club awarded Andrews a $400 scholarship, to be split evenly over two years, enabling him to attend one of three black state colleges. Andrews entered Fort Valley State College in September 1948 and began working in the art department. His mother and siblings picked scrap cotton to pay the portion of his tuition not covered by the scholarship. The only art class offered at Fort Valley was a one–semester art appreciation course, which Andrews enrolled in six times.

When Andrews' scholarship expired in 1950, he could no longer afford to attend Fort Valley. He enrolled in the United States Air Force, where he served during the Korean War and attained the rank of staff sergeant. Upon his honorable discharge in 1954, Andrews moved to Chicago where he entered the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and began to hone his style. Prior to arriving in Chicago, Andrews had never even visited a museum, and he found the school's rigid emphasis on established artistic forms, especially its championing of the abstract expressionist style, confining. Andrews opted, instead, to work in a representational style, drawing inspiration from such realist painters as Jan Vemeer, Franz Kline, and Edward Hopper, as well as from the jazz clubs he frequented and memories of his rural youth. Soon he began incorporating elements of collage in his work. "I started working in collage because I found oil paint so sophisticated, and I didn't want to lose my sense of rawness," Andrews is quoted as saying in American Visions magazine. "Where I am from, the people are very austere. We have big hands. We have ruddy faces. We wear rough fabrics. We actually used the burlap bagging sacks that seed came in to make our shirts. These are my textures."

Viewed as 'Outsider' Artist

Andrews steadfastly refused to yield to the trends of the times and insisted on creating work that spoke to those outside the art establishment. His work often featured larger–than–life human figures tied to such socially provocative themes as hands–on labor (an early series was based on the Art Institute's janitors), women's strength, and a prison uprising at Attica state prison in New York. "What ever it is I do or do not do in the paintings I paint really are attempts by me to communicate to the 'Folks.' While I could write yards on who the 'Folks' are, just let it suffice to say for this time, they are 'us,' " Andrews wrote in Black Artists on Art. This approach was frowned upon in the academy, however. In a chronology written by Andrews and published in the catalog for his "Bicentennial Series" he notes under the 1954 heading: "Was rejected for every show, organization or club in the Chicago Art Institute. Rejected for the veterans' exhibition when the only requirement to exhibit was to be a veteran." Andrews supported himself during his Art Institute years by illustrating advertisements for local theater companies and album covers for Blue Note and other record labels. He married photographer Mary Ellen Smith in 1957 and earned his BFA in 1958, while never winning the favor of his professors or peers. "I . . . was determined to remain true to what I felt an artist should be, and that was a human being who happened to paint, sculpt, or etch, never giving up his or her right to remain himself. Needless to say, in the eyes of the school, I was a total failure, and I found that very easy to live with—in fact I gained a certain amount of strength from the academics' utter dislike of what I chose to do, which was natural–looking black and white people from all regions of America," he said in World Artists.

Benny and Mary Ellen Andrews moved to New York following Andrews' graduation and their first son, Christopher, was born a week after their arrival. The couple eventually had two more children—another son, Thomas, and a daughter, Julia. Smith took an office job to support the family and Andrews stayed home to paint and take care of the children. He also began to mingle with other rising and established artists, including African American painters Bob Thompson and Jacob Lawrence, whose works exhibited a pointed cultural consciousness. As at the Art Institute, entry into the New York art world proved difficult, but Andrews met with some early successes. In 1959, his works were accepted by the Philadelphia Academy's 159th Bi–Annual Exhibition and the Detroit Institute of Art's 13th Biennial of Painting and Sculpture. The following year he had his first one–man exhibition at the Paul Kessler Gallery in Provincetown, Massachusetts, which would become an important supporter of his work.

Andrews' paintings began to sell, and in 1962 he and his family traveled to Mexico for a two–month stay during which Andrews studied the works of Mexican masters. That same year, an exhibit at the newly opened Forum Gallery in New York drew favorable criticism from the New York Times and New York Herald Tribune. One–man exhibitions, group shows, sales, and visits to Mexico came more frequently after this time, and in 1966 Andrews accepted a teaching position at New York's New School for Social research. He was growing increasingly concerned about what he saw as the marginalization of African American artists by the mainstream art community, however. In 1968 he participated in "New Voices: 15 New York Artists" at the American Greeting Gallery in New York, the nation's first major exhibition of African American artists (the exhibit was later expanded to 30 artists and traveled nationwide). Despite the widespread attention the exhibit drew, Andrews felt larger, more established institutions were neglecting African American artists. That same year, he participated in protests against the Whitney Museum of American Art's "Artist of the Thirties" exhibit, which included no African American artists.

Founded Activist Organization

The following year, Andrews helped found the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition (BECC) to protest the "Harlem on My Mind" exhibit at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. While the exhibit featured African–American artists, the BECC was concerned that no black historians or scholars had helped organize the show. The coalition convinced the Whitney to launch an exhibition of African American artists, but ultimately disapproved of the way the museum organized the exhibit and launched a boycott. Fifteen of the 75 artists chosen for the show withdrew in sympathy. In 1971, 50 artists participated in a "Rebuttal to the Whitney Museum Exhibition" at New York's Acts of Art Galleries, and two years later Andrews curated "Blacks: USA: 1973" at the New York Cultural Center.

Andrews joined the faculty of Queens College in New York in 1969 and began writing art criticism, commencing with a 1970 essay for the New York Times titled "On Understanding Black Art." In addition, he launched art programs in prisons and led a volunteer program at the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children. From 1982 to 1984 he served as visual arts director for the National Endowment for the Arts, where he established additional outreach programs. Andrews realized he had a knack for arts administration, but found the work distracted him from his true mission. "I hated to leave the NEA," Andrews told Joy Hakanson Colby of the Detroit News. "But I couldn't stay with that job and be a painter, too." Andrews and Smith divorced in 1976, and ten years later he married artist Nene Humphrey.

Recognition Grew

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Andrews drew increased recognition for his work, with his paintings and collages appearing in the collections of more than 20 museums across the United States. In 1990, the talent of Andrews' father and his influence on his son was recognized in "Folk: the Art of Benny and George Andrews," a traveling exhibition, which originated at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art in Memphis, Tennessee. Andrews also began to illustrate children's books, many with themes centering on strong, black women. "The emphasis is on family and love," Andrews told the Detroit News' Colby of the books Sky Sash so Blue, The Hickory Chair and Pictures for Miss Josie.

In the new millennium, Andrews set up the Benny Andrews Foundation to assist young African American artists and institutions dedicated to African American art. The Foundation secures works by prominent African American artists for smaller galleries that cannot afford them and teaches young artists how to prepare portfolios, conduct interviews, and otherwise navigate the art world. "A lot of African American artists don't extend the same kind of help they got to young artists on the way up," Andrews told Colby. "It should be like a relay with the baton being passed along."

As for his own success, Andrews attributed it early on to what he called "craziness," which might be interpreted as a defiance of mainstream pressures. "Hell, I knew when I started back in 1971 with [the painting] Symbols that unless I took an approach that was crazy I'd never do anything worth looking at," he wrote in the catalog accompanying the "Bicentennial Series." "I guess that's the real reward about all of this. When you're this way, crazy I mean, you can not be all the things that most everyone else ends up being."

Books

Contemporary Black Biography, v. 22, Gale, 1999.

Lewis, Samella S. and Ruth G. Waddy, Black Artists on Art, v. 2, Contemporary Crafts, 1971.

The Bicentennial Series (exhibition catalog), High Museum of Art, 1975.

Periodicals

American Visions, June/July 1992.

Atlanta Journal–Constitution, February 29, 2003.

Detroit News, May 13, 2003.

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Andrews, Benny 1930–2006

Andrews, Benny 1930–2006

OBITUARY NOTICE—

See index for SATA sketch: Born November 13, 1930, in Plainview, GA; died of cancer November 10, 2006, in New York, NY. Artist, educator, and author. A painter and collage artist, Andrews was noted for his narrative pieces that communicated his interest in human rights, the black experience, and other social concerns. One of ten children growing up in a poor, rural community near Madison, Georgia, Andrews helped support his family by picking cotton. He only managed to attend school sporadically because of this work, but nevertheless became the first person in his family to complete high school. After serving in the U.S. Air Force from 1950 to 1953, he attended the University of Chicago, then earned an M.F.A. in 1958 from the Chicago Art Institute. After graduating, Andrews pursued his art in New York City and had his first solo exhibition in 1962. Influenced by folk art, surrealism, and expressionism, he did not pursue the abstract style popular at the time, yet his artwork still gained considerable attention. He also taught at the New School (now New School University) during the late 1960s, and in 1969 Queens College hired him as an art instructor. He remained on the faculty there until 1997. From 1982 to 1984, Andrews was also director of the visual arts program for the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, DC. Andrews's concern for the disadvantaged was evident in his art throughout his life. His paintings and critically acclaimed collages touched on such subjects as the Holocaust, the plight of Native Americans, and poverty. Most recently, he was involved in a project in which he organized the art of children displaced by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Andrews's art is housed at museums and galleries around the country, including at New Orleans's Ogden Museum of Southern Art and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He was the author of Between the Lines: Seventy Drawings and Seven Essays (1978) and the two-novella book Jessie and Jesus [and] Cousin Claire (1991).

OBITUARIES AND OTHER SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Los Angeles Times, November 14, 2006, p. B11.

New York Times, November 12, 2006, p. A28.

Washington Post, November 17, 2006, p. B7.

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