Benny Andrews. A People’s Painter
“For Benny [Andrews] there was no line where his activism ended and his art began,” wrote civil rights leader John Lewis.1 No matter how great his success or how much time he spent in the New York art world, Andrews never felt removed or elevated from the people he came from.2 The second of ten children, Andrews was born in 1930 in Plainview, Georgia, a rural farming community three miles outside of Madison. His father was a self-taught artist and sharecropper, and his mother was determined he and his siblings would be educated, though sharecropping children conventionally stopped school after seventh grade to work in the fields full time. Throughout his artistic career, Andrews never believed that making art was independent of working toward justice: “I don’t accept that it’s fine art over here on a pedestal, and social stuff is down handing out peanut butter. I see it as much more integrated.”3 Despite the increasing market value of his artwork, Andrews prized “audiences that are not normally reached by the fine art world.”4 He made images for reproduction on widely available calendars and in illustrated children’s books, a 2005 limited edition of Flannery O’Connor’s Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965), and his brother Raymond Andrews award-winning first novel, Appalachee Red (1977).
John Lewis, foreword to Benny Andrews: There Must Be a Heaven (New York: Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, 2013), 7. ↩︎
Lowery Stokes Sims, “Benny Andrews: From Earth to Heaven and Back,” in Benny Andrews: There Must Be a Heaven (New York: Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, 2013), 11. ↩︎