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February 15, 2023

Acquisition: Benny Andrews

Benny Andrews, "Farmer"

Benny Andrews
Farmer, 1965
oil on canvas
overall: 101.6 × 83.82 cm (40 × 33 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Gift of Funds from Agnes Gund and Gift of P. Bruce Marine and Donald Hardy

A deeply political artist, Benny Andrews (1930–2006) was known for exploring themes of race, power, and autobiography in his art. He focused on real and imagined Black subjects and, in his 1965 Autobiographical Series, he painted to reflect his background and life experiences.

The National Gallery of Art has acquired Farmer (1965), a painting that evokes the artist’s early life in rural Georgia, which informed Andrews’s style and subject matter throughout his career. It is the first painting by Andrews to enter the collection and is made possible by a gift of funds from Agnes Gund and through the generosity of P. Bruce Marine and Donald Hardy.

Andrews’s Autobiographical Series consists of memory paintings that represent the lives of people he knew during his childhood in Georgia. Farmer depicts the artist’s father sitting by a window with arms resting on a table. The pensive serenity of the scene evokes Andrews’s nostalgia and respect for his southern upbringing. The colors and texture of the painting exude a rawness and roughness typical of his art. Born into an impoverished sharecropping family, the artist said, “Where I am from, the people are very austere. We have big hands. We have ruddy faces. We wear rough fabrics.… These are my textures.”

Andrews painted figuratively at a time when abstract art was most popular. He refused to assimilate, saying it was important to stay true to oneself and draw inspiration from personal and cultural histories. Andrews believed the stories of marginalized people—women, Black Americans, Native Americans, Jews, and other oppressed groups—were ignored, but he steadfastly believed they could be the foundation of artistic expression.

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