Since the 1970s, Cynthia Hawkins’ systemized practice of improvisation reinterprets motifs sourced from the physical world—from ancient cave paintings to microbiological contours and astronomic forms—and transforms them into a highly developed vocabulary of abstraction. Her characteristically tactile surfaces are subdivided into distinct “habitats”, or environs—fields of color that mimic and subvert the canvas's rectangularity. Sequential works build upon another; each series introduces a new set of concerns which progresses the techniques of its predecessor, offering a cogent investigation of the planar realities and compositional devices inherent to abstract expression.
As curator Thelma Golden has written—and before her, art historian Judith Wilson—Hawkins’s work “exists as a direct heir of the entire, burdensome history of post-World War II art.” Hawkins, who exhibited within the burgeoning black-owned gallery scene of New York’s 1970s, participated in several exhibitions in influential venues Just Above Midtown (JAM), Cinque Gallery, and Kenkeleba Gallery. Believing that abstract works offer novel political possibilities, Hawkins subverts expectations of figuration as a de-facto political mode, offering abstraction’s chromatic worlds as a way into painting’s social realities. The interference of symbols, signs, geometric contours, and calligraphic marks merge into an ecosystem of systemized forms that develop the painterly beyond mere expressionism.
Hawkins (b.1950) is also a longtime teacher, scholar, and curator. She received a doctorate degree in American Studies from the University at Buffalo 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. Hawkins’ solo exhibitions include Natural Things, 1996 – 99, STARS, Los Angeles (2022); Clusters: Stellar and Earthly, Buffalo Science Museum (2009); New Works: The Currency of Meaning, Cinque Gallery, New York (1989); and Cynthia Hawkins, Just Above Midtown/Downtown Gallery, New York (1981). She is included in the survey Just Above Midtown: Changing Spaces, The Museum of Modern Art, New York (2022). Her work is in the public collections of The La Grange Art Museum, La Grange; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; and The Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York, among others. She lives and works in Rochester, New York.