Rising Sun, 1972
Gouache and oil with collage on paper
17 X 13 3/4 in.
Benny Andrews was a notable African American painter born to sharecroppers in Plainview, GA. His artistic talent was nurtured early on by his parents, who taught him the importance of creativity and education. Despite a rough time in early education, Andrews graduated high school in 1948. He attended two years of Fort Valley State College before enlisting in the US Air Force, where he served from 1950 to 1954. Andrews was able to attend the Art Institute of Chicago with his military earnings. With no formal training, he began to develop his Figurative style by observing those around him. Expression was very important in his work and was emphasized in his sketches. Benny crafted his skills by focusing on the time he was living as an adolescent and recording it in his art, often creating scrapbooks of the times. The artist earned his BA in 1958, and moved from Chicago to New York City, after much rejection of his work in showcases.
Andrews found great success in New York City. In 1962, Andrews had his first solo exhibition at the Forum Gallery. The New York Times and other big-name papers ran positive reviews of Andrews’s work, further spreading his success. His artworks were displayed in venues not only in New York City but in nearby Philadelphia as well. In time, his work spread to Detroit, Michigan, and Provincetown. In 1965, Andrews was awarded a John Hay Fellowship, and returned to his native Georgia. His time in Georgia inspired his famous Autobiographical Series. Following the Autobiographical Series, he created works such as America, Bicentennial, and The Migrants. Andrews’s success was great as his pieces were shown internationally. He began lecturing at colleges and teaching at Queens College of the City University of New York, where he would work for 29 years.
In addition to his work as an artist, he became an activist, and started an art program for prisoners. As his activism continued, he began to illustrate for his brother Raymond’s books, such as Appalachee Red. Andrews never lost his Figurative style, despite the rising popularity of other movements in the art world. He continued with his scrapbooks and paintings, always preserving the Expressionist and Surrealist elements that characterized his work. He was heavily influenced by the world around him, and detailed the lives of the poor and the suffering. Through his activism, he brought art to many people who never would have had the opportunity to experience it. He continued painting until his death from cancer in 2006 in New York. His work can be found in many institutions, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Art.