The narrative paintings of Benny andrews They tell poignant stories of social injustice. Inspired by his youth in the south segregated american, Andrews created a body of works depicting scenes from the civil rights movement, American Indian resettlement, anti-war protests, and other cultural struggles.
A self-described "people's painter," his political art is peppered with paintings of people and everyday moments that encapsulate an expression of the human condition in times of conflict.
Throughout his life, he tried to convey the authenticity of emotion by employing a pictorial style reminiscent of folk art, often incorporating collage elements drawn from everyday life.
“I started working with collage because I found oil painting very sophisticated and I didn't want to lose my sense of rawness,” Andrews once said when questioned. for his technique.
Benny was born in 1930 into a family of ten children of George and Viola Andrews en Plainview, Georgia, a rural farming community near Madison. For the first thirteen years of Benny's life, his family lived and worked on land owned by the Orr family, who had built their fortune on slave labor before the Civil war.
As many historians have noted, Andrews' family history reflects the contradictions regarding race relations in the United States. His paternal great-grandfather, William Jackson Orr, he had been an officer in the confederate army, and his paternal grandfather, James Orr, spent over fifty years in a relationship with Jessie Andrews, Benny's grandmother. Andrews' father, George, worked as a sharecropper on the Orr family land. Therefore, Andrews was born into a system that closely resembled the system of slavery that his ancestors had had.
Despite the brutality of his environment, Andrews remembered his childhood as happy and would have the opportunity to study thanks to his mother's efforts.
After graduating and advancing as an artist, Andrews focused her expression on the figurative social commentary depicting fighting, atrocities and everyday events in the world. Thus, for the next few years, Andrews worked at a prolific pace, exploring themes of autobiography, race, and power.
1968 was a pivotal year for Andrews as an artist, activist, and educator, as his involvement in New Voices: 15 New York Artists, a group show of black artists, it was an experience he later described as a turning point in finding a community of black artists.
That year also marked the beginning of Andrews' teaching in the program SEEK en Queens college and his political activism to publicly protest the lack of black artists in museums in the city of NY. This image is the one for which the artist is best remembered.
As Andrews' commitments to activism and education deepened, he embarked on an ambitious year-long series of monumental paintings, thus becoming a monumental painter with a voice that was admired by many young people and social activists.
From 1982 to 1984, Andrews served as director of visual arts for the National Endowment for the Arts. In this position, he had the opportunity to advocate for scholarships and grants for talented black artists who might otherwise have gone unnoticed. He continued to work in this way through the 1980s, 1990s, and into the next century.
He died on November 10, 2006, Brooklyn, New York, United States.
“I express myself best artistically somewhere between the ideas in my head and the tip of my brush, because none of my finished canvases or any oral statement I can make is completely artistically successful. Therefore, I am destined to spend my life pushing my feelings onto the canvas and pulling them into my mouth to satisfy this insatiable need to express myself."