Outsider Art Fair
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William Hawkins

American, 20th century.
Born 1895, Kentucky; died 1990, Columbus, Ohio.


William Hawkins was an urban African-American painter who lived his life as an integral member of Columbus, Ohio. His engaged lifestyle shaped his colorful, large-scale enamel paintings on Masonite board, through which he often chronicled his city's growth through most of the 20th century, by celebrating events and architectural landmarks. His paintings are defined by a painted border, partially comprised of the artists's printed signature and birthdate, a powerful affirmation of his identity as an artist.

Born in Kentucky in 1895, Hawkins also painted rural landscapes and animals from memory, as well as fantastical beasts found in pop-culture or from imagination. Through his consistent daily work as a jack-of-all-trades, Hawkins gathered found objects and materials for use as collage elements. He  carried a suitcase "archive" of images culled from print sources, an activity he called "research." Although some of these images included reproductions taken from art history books and art magazines, Hawkins was a quintessential Outsider, working radically outside the limits of academic canon or contemporary style.

Hawkins didn't shift all his attention to painting until 1979, and never exhibited his work until the age of 87, when local artist Lee Garrett entered one of his paintings into the 1982 Ohio World's fair. His work has subsequently gained international recognition, through a number of major solo and group exhibitions.

- Jenifer P. Borum


Selected Exhibitions

2013, Great and Mighty Things: Outsider Art from the Sheldon and Jill Bonovitz Collection, Philadelphia Museum of Art

2012, Accidental Genius: Art From the Anthony Petullo Collection, Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee

2010, The Museum of Everything, Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli, Turin

1997, William Hawkins Born July 27, 1985, American Folk Art Museum, New York

1992, 19th and 20th-Century Afro-American Artists, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia 

1991, William Hawkins, Ginza Art Space, Shiseido Corporation, Tokyo

1990, William Hawkins, Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, Ohio

Selected Collections

American Folk Art Museum, New York
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia
High Museum of Art, Atlanta

Selected Bibliography

Percy, Ann, and Cara Zimmerman, Great and Mighty Things: Outsider Art from the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz CollectionPhiladelphia Museum of Art & Yale University Press, Hartford, 2013.

Stone, Lisa, ed., Accidental Genius: Art From the Anthony Petullo Collection, exhibition catalogue, Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, 2012.

The Museum of Everything, exhibition catalogue, Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli & Electa, Turin/Milan, 2010.

Maresca, Frank, and Roger Ricco, William Hawkins: PaintingsKnopf, New York, 1997.

Yelen, Alice Rae, Passionate Visions of the American South: Self-Taught Artists from 1940 to the Present, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, 1995.

Hartigan, Lynda Roscoe, Made with Passion: The Hemphill Folk Art Collection in the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C., 1990.

Schwindler, Gary J., "William L. Hawkins: Myth in the Making?." Dialogue, July-August 1988.
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