Cynthia Hawkins paints an ecosystem of organic symbols, signs, geometric contours and calligraphic marks, gesturing towards the potential of abstracting beyond mere expressionism. While often beginning a work or series with a predetermined strategy, Hawkins’ process-oriented practice simultaneously embraces the improvisational to create a systematic space for her continually evolving vocabulary. Collapsing different strategies of painting into a single composition, the artist builds up layers as distinct planar realities, which are then revealed through breaks or transparencies in their surface tension.
Throughout the 1970s and 80s, Hawkins participated in New York’s burgeoning black-owned gallery scene, exhibiting at galleries such as Just Above Midtown, Cinque Gallery and Kenkeleba Gallery. 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. Her early works on canvas used systems of geometry to explore rules of space and spacetime, investigating third and fourth-dimensional movement. 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.
Cynthia Hawkins (b. 1950, Queens, New York) lives and works in Rochester, New York. 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.” Until recently, she was the gallery director and curator at the Bertha V.B. Lederer Gallery, SUNY Geneseo, New York. Hawkins has exhibited solo projects at STARS, Los Angeles (2022); Buffalo Science Museum, Buffalo (2009); Cinque Gallery, New York (1989); and Just Above Midtown/Downtown Gallery, New York (1981). She was recently included in the survey exhibition Just Above Midtown: Changing Spaces at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2022). 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. Hawkins has received the Brooklyn Museum Art School Scholarship, The Herbert and Irene Wheeler Grant and the Black Metropolis Research Consortium Fellowship.