ADAA Art Show : WILLIAM L. HAWKINS (1895 - 1990) • In-person and Online

3 - 7 November 2021

Park Avenue Armory at 67th Street



William Hawkins lived most of his life in Columbus, Ohio, after leaving there in his twenties to avoid a shotgun wedding. He was born in rural Kentucky and his early years on a farm afforded him a knowledge and love of animals—an awareness that informs many of his paintings. In Columbus he held an assortment of unskilled jobs and did not begin painting until the late 1970s. He worked without letup thereafter, in spite of illness and advancing age. 

At first, Hawkins painted on plywood and discarded wall paneling with enamel housepaint in primary colorswhich he salvaged from a local hardware store. Later, he worked on Masonite, which he preferred because he liked the way the paint "set up" on the surface. He painted with a single brush, whose bristles were almost down to the ferrule, wipping off each new color with an old rag. "I don't need but one brush," he would say. Hawkins poured and dripped paint—often directly from the can—letting it flow across the surface as he tilted it. Once, when Frank Maresca and Roger Ricco were watching him work, he looked up and said: "See dat, boys? the paintin's makin' itself."

Hawkins’s main source of inspiration was the print media of his time, the pictures in newspapers and magazines that he collected in a suitcase. His bold range of subject matter included animals (common, exotic, extinct, and semi-fantastical), cityscapes (iconic landmarks, depictions of prominent buildings), and classic religious and pop iconography. He often utilized collaged elements (such as eyes) and found objects, wood, sand, and sawdust to add texture to a painting, or "puff it out." His treatment of color and sense of composition were fearless, expressive, and improvisational, resulting in works that palpitate with their creator’s drive and imagination.

Hawkins would most often paint decorative borders around his work and include his name and birthplace in big handwriting—a signature element that was both visual and informational, and particularly symbolic given that the artist could scarcely read or write. The artist was proud of his age and wanted everyone to know it.

Hawkins did not receive recognition for his work until his friend Lee Garrett entered one of his paintings in the Ohio State Fair, where it won first prize. The artist was then in his eighties but continued to be immensely prolific. By the next year (1983), Ricco/Maresca Gallery had started representing him, launching his career nationally and internationally. In 1989 he suffered a stroke from which he only partly recovered and died months later, in 1990. Today, Hawkins’s work can be found in the permanent collections of the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, the American Folk Art Museum (New York),  The Newark Museum of Art (New Jersey), the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the High Museum of Art (Atlanta), the Columbus Museum of Art (Ohio), The New Orleans Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum (Washington D.C.), among others. In 2018, William L. Hawkins: An Imaginative Geography, a comprehensive exhibition including 60 of the artist’s most important works and an accompanying catalog, opened at the Columbus Museum of Art—later traveling to the Mingei International Museum (San Diego, California), the Figge Art Museum (Davenport, Iowa), and the Columbus Museum in Georgia.