“William Hawkins: Architectural Paintings”
A self-taught artist captures grandeur in architectural themes
What’s in a name? For William Hawkins, who invariably signed his work in bold letters, WILLIAM L. HAWKINS, BORN JULY 27TH 1895, it was at once a compositional device and an interface with the world. Hawkins, who died in 1990, was both self-taught artist and painter of modern life, taking his subject matter—animals, contemporary events, biblical scenes and famous works of art—from calendars, books, magazines and newspapers. Nowhere is his particular combination of individual vision and canny observation more evident than in his paintings of buildings, a selection of which constitutes this exhibition.
Architectural subjects proved to be ideally suited to Hawkins’s graphic sensibilities and fearless use of color. The works here (all from 1982–1988) range from a nearly abstract green, yellow and red log cabin reminiscent of a Peter Halley painting, to a closely observed rendering of the Ohio statehouse, a white froth between dark banks of vegetation. There’s also the dignified lines of the state capitol in Albany, picked out in blue, and the exuberance of the proliferating black onion domes in Parliamentary Buildings with Three Girls.
The highlight of this exhibition is the epic The Building of the Statue of Liberty, a crazy quilt of collaged elements and painterly passages in soft browns, reds and blues. In the center of the painting is a photograph of a family group framed by a painted doorway. Their silhouetted figures, at the threshold of inside and out, seem to stand in for Hawkins himself, whose painting was simultaneously an acknowledgement of the world and a vigorous assertion of his presence in it, his name stitching the two into an indivisible, if fractious, whole.—Anne Doran