Benny Andrews (American, November 13, 1930–November 10, 2006) was a notable African American painter born to sharecroppers in Plainview, GA. His artistic talent was nurtured early on with parents who taught him the importance of creativity and education. Despite a rough time in early education, Andrews was able to graduate high school in 1948. He attended two years of Fort Valley State College. After two years of school, he left and enlisted in the US Air Force from 1950 to 1954. With his military earnings, Andrews was able to attend the University of Chicago at the Art Institute. 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. He crafted his skills by focusing on the time he was living in 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.
Unlike Chicago, 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 artwork was displayed in venues not only in New York City but in nearby Philadelphia as well. With time, his work spread to Detroit, Michigan, and Provincetown, RI. In 1965, Andrews was awarded a John Hay Fellowship and returned to his native Georgia. His time in Georgia inspired his famous Autobiographical Series, which in turn brought about his use of themes in his work. 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.
His work didn't end with his art; 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 presence of other movements in the art world. He continued with his scrapbooks and paintings, never straying from his Expressionism or Surrealism elements. His work was heavily influenced by the world around him and detailed 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.