The American Folk Art of William Hawkins

By James Calemine

William L. Hawkins was born in Union City, Kentucky. A self-taught African-American artist whose work did not begin to gain attention until the 1980s, Hawkins’ paintings have been exhibited at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the American Folk Art Museum and the Mingei International Museum in San Diego.

Raised on a Kentucky farm, Hawkins learned how to draw by copying illustrations as a young boy. At 21, he moved to Columbus, Ohio, and began painting cityscapes, nature and fantastic animals for which he is known. His work later became associated with Columbus. He’s got a style somewhere near Howard Finster and a vibe of Sun Ra.

Hawkins expressed pride in his Kentucky heritage and Native American roots. Hawkins often signed his paintings with his full name and birthdate. Some of his work contains pop culture such as “The Last Supper #9”, “#6” and “Robotech A Team”. Other notable paintings include “Atlas Building”, “Neil House with Chimney #2” and “Tasmanian Tiger”.

The late bluesman Chris Whitley once said of Hawkins: “He’s a southern outsider painter who did stuff on masonite, like, with sticks. It’s rough but really inspired. He made money just before he died, in 1990, but he probably didn’t care.”

I respectfully suggest you, dear reader, search for the book William Hawkins: Paintings by Frank Maresca, Roger Ricco and Hawkins. William Hawkins lived most of his life like a true artist–poor and obscure–but his work transcended time and money. Selah.

www.jamescalemine.com

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