William Hawkins

William Hawkins was born in rural Kentucky then in 1916, Hawkins went north to Columbus, Ohio. His early years in Kentucky provided him with his knowledge and love of animals. In Columbus, Hawkins held an assortment of unskilled jobs, drove a truck, and even ran a small brothel. He was married twice and claimed to have fathered some twenty children. Although Hawkins was drawing and selling his work as early as the 1930’s, he did not begin painting in the style for which he is best known until the mid-to late 1970s. He worked constantly thereafter in spite of illness and advancing age. At first, Hawkins used inexpensive and readily available materials: semi-gloss and enamel paints in primary colors tossed out by a local hardware store, and a single blunt brush. Later, when he could afford it, he painted on Masonite, which he preferred because it didn’t “suck up the paint” like cardboard or plywood. He often painted elaborate borders around his pictures and attached such materials as wood, gravel, newspaper photos, or found objects. And although Hawkins could barely read and write, he transformed words themselves, usually represented by his signature and birth date and often his place of birth, into powerful visual elements. Hawkins suffered a stroke in 1989, from which he only partly recovered, and he died several months later. He once summed up his aspirations as an artist by remarking, “You have to do something wonderful, so people know who you are.”

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