May 18, 2018

William L. Hawkins at CMA @ Hyperallergic

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Columbus Museum of Art (CMA) has a real knack for presenting artists who not only have local connection and cache, but have gone relatively unnoticed by other major institutions. The work of William L. Hawkins has been gathered in unprecedented scope for his first major museum exhibition, William L. Hawkins: An Imaginative Geography, the joint effort of CMA and the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa. In many ways, Hawkins’s aesthetics represent the Platonic ideal of outsider art, so utterly definitive of the genre that to encounter his works feels like suddenly recalling a childhood memory. There is a sense, in looking at his bold and humorous paintings, of returning to something one has always known.

The accretion of some 60-plus pieces of 2D and rare 3D work are all the more impressive when one considers that Hawkins was not discovered or embraced by the art world until he was in his 80s. Most of his extant work comes from the single decade between his public debut, when he took first prize at the 1982 Ohio State Fair, and his death in 1990 — but during his years in the limelight, Hawkins was so wildly popular and successful in selling his work, it’s entirely possible that the artist himself never got to see this many of his paintings in one place.

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