William Hawkins


painted powerful portrayals of the urban scene, and bold paintings of animals; historical subjects; and buildings, including some of the landmark architecture inColumbus, Ohio, such as the Neil House and the Willard Hotel; images from popular culture; and Bible scenes, including his many versions of the Nativity andLeonardo da Vinci’s
Last Supper
. His bold religious narratives demonstrate a contemporary approach to ancient themes that enhances their relevance in modern times.Hawkins’ paintings display a technical virtuosity. He used materials at hand, including large pieces of Masonite, cardboard, discarded paper, and enamel house paint,which he applied with sticks and brushes and mixed occasionally with glitter or sawdust to create texture. He integrated collage into his work, using pictures and articlestorn from magazines, newspapers, and books as well as postcards and other printed matter, which he kept in a suitcase and referred to as “research.” His painterly brushstrokes, loose and full of movement and emotion, sustain his broad and dramatic visual gestures. Coupled with his use of bright colors and a sharply contrasting palette, Hawkins’ techniques help to maintain a strong element of excitement and surprise in his work, one of his stated goals.Demonstrating artistic interest and ability at an early age, Hawkins began to paint when he was ten years old. He loved to draw horses, using photographs asreferences. Hawkins and Vertia, his brother, were raised by their maternal grandmother, Mary Mason Runyon Scudder, on her farm in Union City, Kentucky, wherethe two brothers became expert at riding horses and where they hunted and fished.Hawkins was sent to Columbus, Ohio, by his family when he was nineteen. With little education or money, Hawkins faced the additional burden of coping with racial prejudice for the first time in his life. Drawing on his enormous self-confidence and personal strength, he developed survival skills that helped him throughout his life. Heworked as a truck driver and continued to do so until he was eighty-five, subsidizing his income by selling the salvaged materials he found on the streets of Columbus, an activity that alsocontributed to his artistic pursuits.Hawkins’ work was discovered in 1981 by Lee Garrett, a trained artist as well as Hawkins’ neighbor. Impressed with their vitality, Garrett entered a Hawkins painting into an art competition at the Ohio State Fair; Hawkins was awarded first prize. Garrett encouraged Hawkins to use materials of better quality and sent slidesof his work to Roger Ricco, a New York City gallery owner. Ricco represented the artist until Hawkins’ death in 1990. Through the gallery, Hawkins sold many paintings, and his reputation grew. An exhibition of William Hawkins’ paintings was organized at the Museum of American Folk Art (now the American Folk ArtMuseum) in Manhattan in 1997. His work has been a part of many important group exhibitions and is included in the permanent collections of museums throughout theUnited States.
See also

African American Folk Art (Vernacular Art); American Folk Art Museum; Painting, American Folk
Arnett, William, and Paul Arnett, eds.
Souls Grown Deep: Vernacular Art of the South.
Atlanta, Ga., 1998.Hartigan, Lynda Roscoe.
Made with Passion: The Hemphill Folk Art Collection in the National Museum of American Art.
Washington, D.C., 1990.Hollander, Stacy C., and Brooke Davis Anderson, eds.
American Anthem: Masterpieces from the American Folk Art Museum.
New York, 2002.Longhauser, Elsa, and Harald Szeemann.
Self-Taught Artists of the Twentieth Century: An American Anthology.
San Francisco, 1998.Maresca, Frank, and Roger Ricco.
William Hawkins: Paintings.
New York, 1997.Rosenak, Chuck, and Jan Rosenak.
Museum of American Folk Art Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century American Folk Art and Artists.
New York, 1991.Yelen, Alice Rae.
Passionate Visions of the American South: Self-Taught Artists from the 1940s to the Present.
New Orleans, La., 1993