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Benny Andrews: Portraits, A Real Person Before the Eyes

Now On View


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Janitors at Rest, 1957-58 oil on canvas with paper...

Janitors at Rest, 1957-58

oil on canvas with paper and painted fabric collage

50 x 36 inches / 127 x 91.4 cm

signed

Actor, 1963 oil on canvas with painted fabric coll...

Actor, 1963

oil on canvas with painted fabric collage

15 3/4 x 12 3/4 x 1 5/8 inches / 40 x 32.4 x 4.1 cm

signed

The Artist as an Artist, 1964 oil on Masonite with...

The Artist as an Artist, 1964

oil on Masonite with painted fabric collage

16 x 11 1/8 x 1/2 inches / 40.6 x 28.3 x 1.3 cm

signed

Mother Earth, 1970 oil on canvas with painted fabr...

Mother Earth, 1970

oil on canvas with painted fabric and mixed media collage

30 x 20 x 2 inches / 76.2 x 50.8 x 5.1 cm

signed

Afro-American, 1972 oil on canvasboard with painte...

Afro-American, 1972

oil on canvasboard with painted fabric collage

20 x 16 x 1/4 inches / 50.8 x 40.6 x 0.6 cm

signed

6 Floor Walkup, 1974 oil on canvas with painted fa...

6 Floor Walkup, 1974

oil on canvas with painted fabric and mixed media collage in artist's frame

70 3/4 x 49 1/4 x 2 1/2 inches / 179.7 x 125.1 x 6.4 cm

signed

Pocketed, 1975 oil on paper with Xerox and mixed m...

Pocketed, 1975

oil on paper with Xerox and mixed media collage

30 x 22 1/4 x 1/8 inches / 76.2 x 56.5 x 0.3 cm

signed

Untitled, 1975 oil on paper with Xerox and mixed m...

Untitled, 1975

oil on paper with Xerox and mixed media collage

24 x 18 x 1/8 inches / 61 x 45.7 x 0.3 cm

signed

For Colored Girls, 1977 oil on canvas with painted...

For Colored Girls, 1977

oil on canvas with painted fabric collage

46 x 40 x 3/4 inches / 116.8 x 101.6 x 1.9 cm

signed

Funeral, 1977 oil on canvas with painted fabric co...

Funeral, 1977

oil on canvas with painted fabric collage

75 x 41 1/4 x 1 inches / 190.5 x 104.8 x 2.5 cm

signed

Louie, 1977 oil on canvas with painted fabric and...

Louie, 1977

oil on canvas with painted fabric and mixed media collage

59 1/2 x 51 x 1 3/4 inches / 151.1 x 129.5 x 4.4 cm

signed

Thanks, 1977 oil and graphite on canvas with paint...

Thanks, 1977

oil and graphite on canvas with painted fabric collage

60 x 40 x 2 1/4 inches / 152.4 x 101.6 x 5.7 cm

signed

Howardena, 1978 oil and graphite on canvas with pa...

Howardena, 1978

oil and graphite on canvas with painted fabric collage

30 x 24 x 3/4 inches / 76.2 x 61 x 1.9 cm

signed

Malice, 1978 oil and graphite on canvas with paint...

Malice, 1978

oil and graphite on canvas with painted fabric collage

50 x 42 x 2 inches / 127 x 106.7 x 5.1 cm

signed

The Park, 1978 oil and graphite on canvas with pai...

The Park, 1978

oil and graphite on canvas with painted fabric collage

36 x 49 3/4 x 1 1/4 inches / 91.4 x 126.4 x 3.2 cm

signed

Here Comes the Wind, 1980 acrylic, spray paint and...

Here Comes the Wind, 1980

acrylic, spray paint and ink on paper with painted fabric and paper collage

28 1/2 x 22 5/8 x 1/8 inches / 72.4 x 57.5 x 0.3 cm

signed

Blood, 1984 oil, spray paint and graphite on paper...

Blood, 1984

oil, spray paint and graphite on paper with painted fabric and paper collage

30 x 22 1/4 x 1/4 inches / 76.2 x 56.5 x 0.6 cm

signed

Duchamp, 1985 oil and graphite on canvas with pain...

Duchamp, 1985

oil and graphite on canvas with painted fabric collage

50 x 36 x 1 1/2 inches / 127 x 91.4 x 3.8 cm

signed

Portrait of Alice Neel, 1985 oil on canvas with pa...

Portrait of Alice Neel, 1985

oil on canvas with painted fabric collage

84 7/8 x 57 x 1 1/2 inches / 215.6 x 144.8 x 3.8 cm

signed

Portrait of Despair, 1985 oil and graphite on canv...

Portrait of Despair, 1985

oil and graphite on canvas with painted fabric collage

72 3/8 x 52 1/2 x 3/4 inches / 183.8 x 133.4 x 1.9 cm

signed

Portrait of Norman Lewis, 1985 oil on canvas with...

Portrait of Norman Lewis, 1985

oil on canvas with painted fabric and mixed media collage

60 1/4 x 39 3/4 x 1 inches / 153 x 101 x 2.5 cm

signed

Portrait of Oppression (Homage to the Black South...

Portrait of Oppression (Homage to the Black South Africans), 1985

oil on canvas with painted fabric and mixed media collage

104 x 48 x 1 inches / 264.2 x 121.9 x 2.5 cm

signed

Portrait of Ray Johnson, 1985 oil and graphite on...

Portrait of Ray Johnson, 1985

oil and graphite on canvas with painted fabric, paper and mixed media collage

72 1/4 x 50 1/4 x 1 1/2 inches / 183.5 x 127.6 x 3.8 cm

signed

Portrait of George C. Andrews, 1986 oil on canvas...

Portrait of George C. Andrews, 1986

oil on canvas with painted fabric and mixed media collage

84 1/8 x 49 3/4 x 3/4 inches / 213.7 x 126.4 x 1.9 cm

signed

Portrait of Nene Humphrey (the Artist's Wife),...

Portrait of Nene Humphrey (the Artist's Wife), 1987

oil and graphite on canvas with painted fabric collage

60 x 50 x 1/4 inches / 152.4 x 127 x 0.6 cm

signed

Portrait of the Portrait Painter, 1987 oil and gra...

Portrait of the Portrait Painter, 1987

oil and graphite on two canvas panels with painted fabric collage

80 x 100 x 3/4 inches / 203.2 x 254 x 1.9 cm

signed

Miss Emma, 1988 oil on two joined canvas panels wi...

Miss Emma, 1988

oil on two joined canvas panels with painted fabric collage

79 3/4 x 31 3/4 x 3/4 inches / 202.6 x 80.6 x 1.9 cm

signed

The Blacksmith, 1988 oil and graphite on two joine...

The Blacksmith, 1988

oil and graphite on two joined canvas panels with painted fabric collage

82 x 43 1/2 x 1 inches / 208.3 x 110.5 x 2.5 cm

signed

The Homeless, 1989 oil on two joined canvas panels...

The Homeless, 1989

oil on two joined canvas panels with painted fabric collage

84 x 24 x 1/2 inches / 213.4 x 61 x 1.3 cm

signed

Famine, 1989 oil, ink and colored pencil on paper...

Famine, 1989

oil, ink and colored pencil on paper with painted fabric and mixed media collage

30 x 22 1/4 x 1/4 inches / 76.2 x 56.5 x 0.6 cm

signed

Cherokee, 1990 oil on paper with painted fabric co...

Cherokee, 1990

oil on paper with painted fabric collage

30 1/4 x 22 5/8 x 1/4 inches / 76.8 x 57.5 x 0.6 cm

signed

Sorrow, 1990 oil and ink on paper with painted fab...

Sorrow, 1990

oil and ink on paper with painted fabric collage

39 3/4 x 26 1/8 inches / 101 x 66.4 cm

signed

Benny (Self Portrait), 1992 oil on three joined ca...

Benny (Self Portrait), 1992

oil on three joined canvas panels with painted fabric collage

93 1/4 x 24 x 1 inches / 236.9 x 61 x 2.5 cm

signed

Alice Neel, 1993 oil and ink on paper with painted...

Alice Neel, 1993

oil and ink on paper with painted fabric collage

30 x 22 1/2 x 1/8 inches / 76.2 x 57.2 x 0.3 cm

signed

Time for Church, 1998 oil on canvas with painted f...

Time for Church, 1998

oil on canvas with painted fabric collage

60 x 26 x 1 inches / 152.4 x 66 x 2.5 cm

signed



Artists


Press


Press Release

"I start out, I make a mess… I have to throw myself off so I don't copy what is right on top of my mind. Because if I just draw out or paint on something, I'm just copying what's in my mind. I'm trying to get deeper than that into my unconscious… I start out with a face and when I get a face that conveys a feeling to me of a real person, and I mean in feeling—I don't mean in realistic photographic likeness, but I mean feeling. When I get some that looks like a real face then I'm on my way… A cardboard person, no matter how real their surroundings are, [is] still cardboard. So, that's what I'm trying for... some kind of strength. Whatever it is depends on whatever I'm trying to say—happiness, love, all those kinds of things. But if I get a real person before the eyes, then I'm on my way.”[1] —Benny Andrews, 1968
 
Michael Rosenfeld Gallery is pleased to present its third solo exhibition for Benny Andrews (American, 1930–2006), showcasing portraits—a vital and constant genre throughout the artist’s oeuvre. Benny Andrews: PortraitsA Real Person Before the Eyes will feature 35 portraits, represented by paintings and works on paper created between 1957 and 1998. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully-illustrated color catalogue with new scholarship by Jessica Bell Brown, Associate Curator for Contemporary Art, The Baltimore Museum of Art; Connie H. Choi, Associate Curator, Permanent Collection, The Studio Museum in Harlem; and Kyle Williams, Director of the Andrews-Humphrey Family Foundation. 
 
Benny Andrews: Portraits, A Real Person Before the Eyes traces Andrews’ commitment to portraiture, beginning in 1957 with Andrews’ seminal collage painting Janitors at Rest, and including portraits of fellow artists Marcel Duchamp, Ludvik Durchanek, Norman Lewis, Ray Johnson, Alice Neel, and Howardena Pindell, and also of his father George C. Andrews, and wife, Nene Humphrey. While Andrews created portraits of people he knew, as well as of himself, portraiture also served as a vehicle through which he could metaphorically express the personification of ideas, thoughts, emotions and values. 
 
In his deeply humanizing portraits, Andrews employed his signature and pioneering use of paint and collage to build surface in order to create depictions composed of fleshy tactility, extending his sitters into three-dimensional space as a way of reinforcing their human presence and defining their distinct characteristics, since “collage provided him with a degree of depth and breadth not found in painterly realism.”[2] Indeed, his discovery of collage and texture was a way to construct surface in order to affirm his interest in both the individual and shared experience of humanity. His powerful depictions of people—both named and unnamed—reinforce his deep connection to the emotional soul of mankind.

Searching for a visual language to capture the immediacy of everyday life and the quotidian nature of his subject matter, Andrews first developed his “rough collage” technique, combining scraps of paper and cloth with oil paint on canvas, as a student. He honed this technique in a breakthrough period during his studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, when, in 1957, he was struck by the school’s African American janitors and created the pivotal Janitors at Rest, which first introduced collage into his painting. This critical component would inform the rest of his artistic career. The work—begun during his last year of school—became a turning point for him as he began to completely devote himself to painting. At the same time, he began studying with the painter Boris Margo (1902-1995), “the instructor who had encouraged him to paint what he knew, what he felt.”[3] Indeed, Andrews was inspired by the janitors and their environment, studying their faces and experimenting with their materials—like towels and toilet tissues. The artist wrote:

“I placed the two little wads of tissues on a stool in front of my newly stretched canvas and sat back and started to think, Who are these men? They are the school janitors to us, Black and White, but in their minds they were much more. Yet here I am trying to think of some way to express my feelings for them that transcends the superficial jobs that they are stuck with, but how? I started fingering the two wads of paper and I thought, ‘Why not paste it on my canvas with no prescribed idea of designs or even picture, just paste it on at random. I know it is representative of an environment that they exist in, so if I put that on my canvas, and started playing around with ideas of them and so forth, maybe I’ll come up with an idea that is not so commonplace.’ I did that and then I started painting their faces. I smeared paint. I kept turning the canvas around, and I even went back to the men’s room a couple of times to talk with them that afternoon. I started working with collage that way, and I have been using it ever since.”[4] 

In her essay for the exhibition’s catalogue, Jessica Bell Brown writes of Andrews’ remarkable portraits: “Taken together, these works signal what it means to be at once the beholder and image-maker, to open new portals for irreducible sensibilities unique to those being portrayed. Andrews’ empathetic brush has over the course of time straddled the line between inventiveness and observation, and honed the ability to truly grapple with all the complexities of identity and self-making. In this contemporary moment of evident and renewed socio-political reckoning, Andrews’ portraits are faithful models for holding space for the expansiveness of subjectivity and personhood in American art.”[5] 
 
In 2009, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC became the representative of the Benny Andrews Estate and this exhibition has been organized with their cooperation.

More information on 
Benny Andrews (1930-2006).

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[1] Benny Andrews, in Henri Ghent, “Oral history interview with Benny Andrews,” June 30, 1968, transcript, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, http://www.bennyandrews.com/andrews-and-ghent. 
[2] Pellom McDaniels III, “A Love of Everything: Benny Andrews, American History, and the Politics of Representation,” Benny Andrews: The Bicentennial Series (New York: Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, 2017), 17. 
[3] J. Richard Gruber, American Icons: From Madison to Manhattan, the Art of Benny Andrews, 1948-1997 (Augusta, GA: Morris Museum of Art, 1997), 84. 
[4] Benny Andrews, quoted in ibid, 86. 
[5] Jessica Bell Brown, “In Excess of Realism: Benny Andrews’ Composites,” in Benny Andrews: Portraits, A Real Person Before the Eyes (New York: Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, forthcoming).