Born in Madison, Georgia, the son of sharecroppers, Benny Andrews studied at Fort Valley State College (1948-50). After serving in the Korean War with the United States Air Force, he attended the School of the Art Institute in Chicago (1954-58), studying with Jack Levine and Boris Margo. He was generally viewed as an outsider, unyielding to the trends of abstraction at the time he was developing at the Art Institute. His work focused on figurative social commentary depicting the struggles, atrocities, and everyday occurrences in the world, especially in the African American community. In his drawings, paintings, and collages, Andrews continued 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.”
As his career flourished he continued to speak out on the inequalities facing African American artists and helped found the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition with fellow artist Cliff Joseph. He spent 29 years teaching art at Queens College and served as the Director of the Visual Arts program, a division of the National Endowment for the Arts (1982-84). 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 many major museums, including the Brooklyn Museum of Art, NY; Detroit Institute of Art; Morris Museum of Art, GA; Hirshorn Museum, Washington D.C.; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.
His work was featured in the major exhibition Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power which originated at Tate Modern, London, UK in 2017 and traveled throughout the United States through 2020. Currently, his work is featured in the exhibitions, Seeing Differently: The Phillips Collects for a New Century, The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, March 6 – September 12, 2021; MoMA’s Permanent Collection: ”War Within, War Without”, Museum of Modern Art, New York; and 50X50: Stories of Visionary Artists from the Collection, San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA.