As proudly inscribed on most of his paintings, William Hawkins was born in Kentucky on July 27, 1895, though he spent much of his adult life in and around Columbus, Ohio, where he first moved in 1916 to avoid a shotgun wedding. Hawkins worked tirelessly at numerous jobs—often simultaneously—ranging from breaking horses and running numbers, to industrial steel casting and truck driving. He served in the Army during World War One, mostly digging graves in French military cemeteries for fallen American soldiers. Hawkins began painting in the 1930s, though he only began dedicating himself exclusively to art making around 1979.
Typically painting with a single brush and using semi-gloss house paint enamels on large plywood and Masonite surfaces, he often worked from his own black-and-white photographs of buildings and animals, boldly articulating his unique, expressionistic interpretations of architectural forms, religious subjects, and nature studies in bright colors and broad, patterned brushstrokes. Collage and the incorporation of found objects often characterize Hawkins’s work, as does his ubiquitous, bold signature and painted frames.
By the time of his death in 1990, Hawkins had completed some 500 paintings and pencil drawings (not counting his lost early pieces), revealing a gradual turn toward human figuration in his later years.