Born and raised in Kentucky, a young William Hawkins migrated north to Ohio to avoid a shotgun wedding. In Ohio, he worked and lived until around 1930, well into his forties, he discovered a talent for drawing and painting. Many of Hawkins’ jobs took him across the country as a travelling salesman and he took many black and white photographs of the places he saw as he drove through; many of these photos were used as a source of inspiration for his paintings. In 1979 Hawkins met and made friends with artist Lee Garrett who inspired Hawkins to focus more effort into painting and promoting his work through exhibitions. Once Hawkins retired from work he was able to dedicate all of his efforts into his painting and created well over 500 works. William Hawkins has been exhibited in many notable national museums such as The Museum of American Folk Art in New York City, The Columbus Museum of Art, and here in The Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Hawkins uses bold brushstrokes and decorative patterns to dominate his pictorial space. His forms are sure, commanding and expressive. Hawkins uses simple materials such as large plywood and masonite surfaces with semi-gloss enamel paints, often painting with just one brush. Subject matter ranges from the real to the fantastic including familiar buildings and stadiums and imagined animals and religious figures. The final touch on all of Hawkins’ works is the inclusion of his full name and birth date, often in large bold lettering.