Benny Andrews (1930-2006)
Benny Andrews, nationally recognized as an artist, teacher, author, activist, and advocate of the arts, grew up in rural Morgan County.
Andrews was born on November 13, 1930, in Plainview, a small farming community three miles from Madison. His mother, Viola, instilled in her ten children the importance of education, religion, and freedom of expression; his father, George, a self-taught artist, fueled their creativity with his drawings and illustrations. Although the entire family worked in the cotton fields as sharecroppers, Viola Andrews was adamant that her children attend school. Andrews's attendance was sporadic because he went only when he wasn't needed in the fields or when it rained.
After several years at Plainview Elementary School, Andrews walked to Madison to attend Burney Street High School, and in 1948 he was the first member of his family to graduate. A two-year scholarship awarded by the 4-H Club enabled him to enroll at Fort Valley State College (later Fort Valley State University) in Fort Valley. The only art course offered was a single class in art appreciation, which Andrews took six times. By 1950, with the end of the scholarship money and with poor grades, Andrews left school and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. After four years of military duty, which spanned the Korean War (1950-53), Andrews was honorably discharged. He used the G.I. Bill to fund a portion of his studies at the Art Institute of Chicago in Illinois.
During this period Andrews experimented with collage both as a way to incorporate a three-dimensional element in a two-dimensional medium and in an effort to create rawness and tension within his work. He was inspired by artwork at the Art Institute of Chicago and by the people he saw on the streets and in the jazz clubs. His work took on a singular style, which defies categorization but shows the influences of the dominant movements of the 1950s, abstract expressionism and surrealism, as well as the dominant movements of the 1930s and early 1940s, social realism and the American Scene.
Andrews left Chicago in 1958 after he was awarded a bachelor of fine arts degree. His work had been rejected from every art show at the institute, including the veterans' exhibition, which had a single exhibition requirement—military service. He left for New York City.
Within his first
Andrews received a John Hay Whitney Fellowship in 1965 and used it to return to Georgia. His Autobiographical Series of paintings was inspired by this trip, and it established his affinity for producing several works unified by a theme. Subsequent series include Bicentennial, Women I've Known, Completing the Circle, Southland, America, Cruelty and Sorrows, Revival, Music, Langston Hughes, and The Migrants.
In the next decades Andrews's artwork was exhibited nationally and internationally; he taught at Queens
Raymond Andrews's first book, Appalachee Red, was published in 1978 and contained illustrations by Benny, who illustrated all of his brother's subsequent novels, several other books, and children's books, including Sky Sash So Blue by Libby Hathorn, The Hickory Chair by Lisa Rowe Fraustino, and Pictures for Miss Josie by Sandra Belton. From 1982 through 1984 Andrews served as director of the Visual Arts Program for the National Endowment for the Arts.
Andrews was the recipient of numerous awards and accolades, including election into the National Academy in 1997. His work is owned by more than thirty major art museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Detroit Institute of Arts in Michigan, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. He died in New York in November 2006.
Although Andrews dealt with such difficult subjects as slavery, the Holocaust, and the American response to revolt and war, his figurative expressionistic style celebrates the human spirit and the pursuit of the American Dream.
Media Gallery: Benny Andrews (1930-2006)