Art Review, Benny Andrews, NY Cafe

14 Apr

ANDREWS Benny b1930 NY Cafe1986.



I just love me some Benny Andrews.  I know that this print doesn’t show it, but is works are just absolutely brim filled with color and vivid imagery.  Here, Andrews captured a random moment in one of those slice-of-life images that always resound with me.

So we’ve got three tables in a cafe (though the front of the store says Restaurant.)  The first thing that catches the eye is the floor pattern vs. the wallpattern, it’s all incredibly busy for the eye.  Actually the big white square meant to be the window keeps the room from feeling like the inside of a pattern box.  Another item to notice is how the floor seems slightly warped.  I don’t know why, but the warpedness fits the feel of a city cafe exactly.  Notice how the chairs and tables are not made for comfort–they’re made to serve basic needs and encourage people to come and go.  There’s something about these public spaces, ones where people don’t stay for too long, that’s a little strange and unanchored.

So we’ve got the three tables.  On the left is the out-of-towner.  He looks wealthy, and he also looks like he’s waiting.  He’s the sort who might have taken his family to New York, but not being well suited to walking (note the cane), found a cafe to rest in while the rest of his folks run about.  Very often those people, the tourist sitters, just kind of zone out and wait, just like this man.  Perhaps he has been to New York many times already–in any case he’s looking off to the left, mind stuck in his own thoughts.

The second table is a working class looking man–maybe a taxi-driver or something like that.  The expression on his face is worry, or perhaps care.  Look how his hands are folded as well, that’s a protective position.  He’s waiting as well, but not quite so happily–anxiously, his coffee is pushed away from him  untouched.   He also could be listening to the people at table three.

Table three has three people at it, unlike the past two tables, these three are actively drinking their coffee and seem to be in the middle of a conversation. The conversation seems to be a deep one–the man at the left has his hand clenched in a fist like he’s making a point.  The other two look intent on the speaker,  one man chewing on his finger, and the other leaning forward and sipping coffee.  Why I think this is an active conversation rather than an argument is how close the three men are sitting together and how intent they are looking.  Clearly the three know each other very well.

What this print made me think of is how these public spaces often become containers for other stuff.   Nobody goes into a coffee shop just to get coffee (or very few do) most have something else they want or need.  In fact, the very reason humans are anywhere in public is because they need something.   It’s an interesting thing to do when you’re in public, look at people and ask, why are they here, what do they need?  If you pay attention you can always find out.

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