Cynthia Hawkins

Since the 1970s, Cynthia Hawkins has investigated the potentials of abstract painting. While often beginning a work or series with a predetermined conceit or strategy, Hawkin’s process-oriented practice simultaneously embraces the improvisational to create a systemized space for her continually evolving vocabulary. Informed by her work as a historian and curator, Hawkins’ practice wrestles with the history of abstraction across the 20th century, embracing formal reinvention as a fundamental task of painting. Collapsing distinct strategies of painting into a single composition, Hawkins builds up layers as distinct planar realities, which are then revealed through breaks or transparencies in their over-painting.

Hawkins, who participated in the burgeoning black-owned gallery scene of New York’s 1970s and 80s, exhibited at Just Above Midtown (JAM), Cinque Gallery, and Kenkeleba Gallery. Her early works on canvas used systems of geometry to explore fundamentals of space and spacetime to investigate three and four dimensional movement. Concurrently she charted the development of symbolic language through the introduction of sequences of shapes and signs that are, as she has written, “strung together [to] imply a sentence or a passage of text.” While her work in the late 1990s shifted towards the abstraction of references sourced from the physical world—from the forest floor to microbiological contours and astronomic forms—Hawkins maintains that her “practice is abstraction.” Hawkins subverts expectations of figuration as a de-facto-political mode, offering the non-objectivity of her chromatic worlds as a way into painting’s social possibilities. The intertextual relationships between symbols, signs, geometric contours, and calligraphic marks merge into an ecosystem of forms that develop the painterly beyond mere expressionism.

Hawkins (b. 1950, Queens, New York) is a longtime teacher, scholar, and curator. She received her doctorate in American Studies from the University of Buffalo, SUNY with a dissertation titled, “African American Agency and the Art Object, 1868-1917,” and until recently she was the gallery director and curator at the Bertha V.B. Lederer Gallery, SUNY Geneseo, New York. She is included in the survey exhibition Just Above Midtown: 1974 to Present at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2022). Hawkins’ solo exhibitions include Natural Things, 1996–99, STARS, Los Angeles (2022); Clusters: Stellar and Earthly, Buffalo Science Museum, Buffalo (2009); New Works: The Currency of Meaning, Cinque Gallery, New York (1989); and Cynthia Hawkins, Just Above Midtown/Downtown Gallery, New York (1981). Her work is in numerous public collections, including The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; The Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York; Kenkeleba Gallery, New York; The La Grange Art Museum, La Grange, Georgia; and the Department of State, Washington, D.C. She has received the Brooklyn Museum Art School Scholarship, The Herbert and Irene Wheeler Grant and the Black Metropolis Research Consortium Fellowship. She lives and works in Rochester, New York.

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