Ricco/Maresca Gallery in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood is showing a grid of 16 tombstone paintings created in 1929 by one E.B. Roberts in English, Indiana, for this itinerant trade.
Has the outsider art field become a victim of its own success? If so, it is a peculiar “victim,” and its success must be measured by standards that go beyond the money-obsessed art world’s primary criterion for determining aesthetic value — the price tag that any specific work happens to sport at any given time.
On almost every painting by William Hawkins you will find his birthdate and place of birth (“William L. H. Hawkins Born K.Y. July 27, 1895” or some variant thereof) prominently marked in bold strokes across the bottom or along the side of the image. In some pieces, the signature’s display is ample and vigorous enough to vie with the subject matter for the viewer’s attention. The self-taught African American artist who lived most of his life in Columbus, Ohio, and whose work came to the attention of gallerists and collections in the mid-80s, felt no need to be shy about his authorship or his Kentucky origins. Vibrantly declamatory, the lettering is of a piece with Hawkins’ depiction of his subjects — animals (real and fantastical) and buildings: beasts and bricks alike appear as if shot through with electric current propelling them outside the frame.