As proudly inscribed on most of his paintings, William Hawkins was born in Kentucky on July 27, 1895, though he spent much of his adult life in and around Columbus, Ohio, where he first moved in 1916 to avoid a shotgun wedding. One of the most highly regarded African-American self-taught artists of the twentieth century, Hawkins worked tirelessly at numerous jobs—often simultaneously—ranging from breaking horses and running numbers to industrial steel casting and truck driving. He served in the Army in World War One, working burial details in France.
Hawkins began painting in the 1930s, though he only dedicated himself exclusively to art around 1979, when he was discovered by neighboring artist Lee Garrett, leading to national attention and what collectors generally describe as his mature period. Tending to paint with a single brush and semigloss enamels on large plywood and Masonite surfaces, he often worked from his own black-and-white photographs of buildings and animals, boldly articulating his unique, expressionistic interpretations of architectural form, religious subjects, and nature studies in bright color and broad, patterned brushstrokes.
By the time of his death in 1990, Hawkins had amassed a body of work comprising approximately 500 paintings and pencil drawings (not counting his lost early pieces), gradually turning toward human figuration in his final years. His highly personal visions of architecture and pop cultural themes are generally rendered in a restrained palette, sometimes including collaged found objects or images to designate depth and dimension in lieu of conventional perspective or detail.
William Hawkins' work can be found at the American Folk Art Museum, New York; the High Museum of Art, Atlanta; the National Gallery, Washington, D.C.; and in Ohio at the Columbus Museum of Art and the Akron Art Museum. Selected Permanent Collections include Akron Art Museum, Akron; The Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus; High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA; National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.; and New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, NJ.
Awards and Grants
1984-1988 Ohio Arts Council Individual Artist Fellowship
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Mar 3–Jun 9, 2013
Group show featuring James Castle, Bill Traylor, Eddie Arning, William Hawkins, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, Joseph Yoakum, et. al.