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William Hawkins

1895–1990, b. Union City, KY; lived and worked Columbus, OH

Available Works

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. 


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Dear John


New York, NY
Mar 19–Apr 24, 2021 

In collaboration with Adams and Ollman and Fleisher/Ollman


James Castle
Felipe Jesus Consalvos
William Edmondson
Lee Godie
William Hawkins
Philadelphia Wireman
Eugene Von Bruenchenhein
Bill Walton
Joseph Yoakum

Mar 24, 2021

Bill walton 0713 500 0x0x4928x3269 q85

Great and Mighty Things: Outsider Art from the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz Collection

Philadelphia Museum of Art
Philadelphia, PA
Mar 3–Jun 9, 2013


Group show featuring James Castle, Bill Traylor, Eddie Arning, William Hawkins, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, Joseph Yoakum, et. al.

Mar 03, 2013