William L. Hawkins: An Imaginative Geography

Columbus Museum of Art (CMA) presents William L. Hawkins: An Imaginative Geography, on view February 16 – May 20, 2018. CMA, in conjunction with the Figge Art Museum, Davenport, Iowa, will present this first major exhibition in more than a decade featuring the Columbus artist. From his exotic wild animals to dramatic depictions of Columbus landmarks, William Hawkins created works that are intense, playful, wondrous, quirky, and flamboyant. An Imaginative Geography explores this fascinating, self-taught genius with more than 60 important works. The exhibition was curated by Susan M. Crawley, scholar and independent curator, formerly the curator of folk art at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta.

“William Hawkins is a treasured home town artist so it is particularly exiting and appropriate for the Columbus Museum of Art to kick-off the national tour for An Imaginative Geography and to present this exhibition first to our Central Ohio community,” said CMA Executive Director Nannette V. Maciejunes. 

“The Figge Art Museum is pleased to be able to launch this important exhibition in Hawkins’ home town of Columbus, Ohio. Wherever they might see it, we are certain visitors to the traveling exhibition will find his work as fresh and exciting as when he was first discovered,” said Tim Schiffer, executive director of the Figge Art Museum.

Drawn from important public and private collections from across the United States and Europe, An Imaginative Geography includes both well-known and rarely seen works. While focusing on Hawkins’ most characteristic works, the exhibition brings special attention to the importance of collage practice in his body of work and to his work in series, of which his Last Supper is the most extensive and best-known example. Eight of the nine known versions of Last Supper are included in the exhibition. Many of Hawkins’ most powerful paintings, including Prudential NYC, Ohio Stadium, Red Dog Running, and Tasmanian Tiger are also featured. Two versions of Ohio Stadium are included in the exhibition; one version was recently acquired by CMA and the other is on loan from the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Though he began painting as a child, Hawkins did not receive national recognition for his work until he reached his eighties. William Lawrence Hawkins was born July 27, 1895 and was raised by his formidable, maternal grandmother, Mary Mason Runyon Scudder. Hawkins lived with his grandmother on the family farm in Kentucky, which was prosperous and provided Hawkins with an imaginative geography that would impact him and his work for the rest of his life. Throughout his life, Hawkins expressed pride in both his Kentucky heritage and his Native American roots. Hawkins moved to Columbus, Ohio when he was twenty-one. He began painting seriously in the 1970s, first with found materials and later with sign painter’s enamel on standard-sized Masonite boards. In 1982, Lee Garrett, a friend and graduate student in art at The Ohio State University, entered one of Hawkins’ paintings in the Ohio State Fair, where it was awarded first prize. By 1983, Hawkins had found representation with a New York art gallery and national recognition followed.

An Imaginative Geography includes some of the artist’s unusual tools and the suitcase in which he kept his research – the mass media images that inspired him. Hawkins explored the world through mass media and then re-presented it with a uniquely expressive bravado. His subjects were drawn from the research he amassed from newspapers, books, calendars, magazines, and other popular print media. Simplifying the forms and heightening the colors, he elaborated passages with vigorous, swirling brushwork.

He also taught himself sophisticated techniques such as scumbling, which he used to great effect. Scumbling is the process by which artists make a painting or a color less brilliant by applying a thin coat of opaque paint. Hawkins also collaged reproduced images and found objects into his paintings. He developed a technique he called “puffing up,” which he defined as building up a shape from the painting surface by mixing cornmeal into the enamel paint.

This exhibition was organized by the Figge Art Museum of Davenport, Iowa. It is made possible in part by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation. The exhibition will also travel to Mingei International Museum in San Diego, the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, and the Columbus Museum in Georgia.

CMA and the Figge Art Museum partnered to produce the fully-illustrated catalogue, published by Skira Rizzoli Publishing, which accompanies the exhibition. The exhibition catalogue will be available in the Museum Store.  

Image: William Hawkins, Red Dog Running #3, 1986. Enamel on masonite, 48 x 60 inches. Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio: Gift of anonymous donor.