Cynthia Hawkins, 2022. | Photo by Todd Smith Fleming


PAULA COOPER GALLERY announced its representation of painter Cynthia Hawkins. Since 1972, Hawkins has been working in abstraction. Describing the artist’s work, the gallery said her paintings draw on “diverse literary, philosophical, and scientific influences” and “utilize a highly developed vocabulary of symbols and signs to investigate color, movement, and light.”

The new representation is in collaboration with STARS in Los Angeles. In March 2025, a solo exhibition of Hawkins will be presented at Paula Cooper in New York.

In the 1970s and 80s, when mainstream New York museums and galleries had little interest in Black artists, Hawkins was active in a community of Black artists and exhibition spaces dedicated to their work, including Just Above Midtown, Kenkeleba Gallery, and Cinque Gallery. During this era, her work was also featured in shows at The Bronx Museum of Art, The Clockwork Tower Gallery, and Studio Museum in Harlem, where she was an artist in residence from 1987-88.


From left, Installation view and detail of CYNTHIA HAWKINS (b. 1950), “Investigation into Green (Yellow Flashes),” 1986 (oil on canvas, 70 x 26 inches / 177.8 x 66 cm). | © Cynthia Hawkins. Courtesy the artist, Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, and STARS, Los Angeles. Photo by Steven Probert


Born in Queens, N.Y., Hawkins lives and works in Rochester. She grew up across the street from CUNY, Queens College, where she received an undergraduate degree in art. Hawkins later earned an MFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. An artist, curator, and art historian, she was director and curator at The Bertha V.B. Lederer Gallery at SUNY Geneseo, from 2007 to 2021.

More recently, her artistic practice has garnered recognition spanning awards and prominent exhibitions. Last year, STARS gallery presented “Cynthia Hawkins: Natural Things, 1996–99,” the artist’s first exhibition in Los Angeles. Also in 2022, “Moving Box” (1975) and “Heirog Inner Marks #1” (1974), two works on paper, were on view in “Just Above Midtown: Changing Spaces” at the Museum of Modern Art. The landmark exhibition chronicled Just Above Midtown (JAM), the historic gallery, experimental space, and community hub founded by Linda Goode Bryant that served artists from 1972-1986. Hawkins had a solo exhibition at JAM in 1981, when she was 28-years-old.

In February, Hawkins received The Helen Frankenthaler Award for Painting, a $45,000 grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts. Over the summer, another solo exhibition was on view at Ortuzar Projects in New York. “Cynthia Hawkins: Gwynfor’s Soup, or the Proximity of Matter” presented 10 new paintings by the artist. In August, during the run of the show, Bomb magazine published an interview with Hawkins, conducted by Ksenia M. Soboleva.

In the interview, Hawkins said she was influenced by Hans Hoffmann’s “push and pull” theory of color and the work of Piet Mondrian was also a source of inspiration, citing his “early tree drawings that evolved to become intersecting lines, followed by geometric shapes.”


From left, Detail and installation view of CYNTHIA HAWKINS, “Investigation into Green (Purple),” 1986 (oil on canvas, 72 x 24 inches / 182.9 x 59.7 cm). | © Cynthia Hawkins. Courtesy the artist, Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, and STARS, Los Angeles. Photo by Steven Probert


Asked about how she defines and explores abstraction in her work, Hawkins said: “Abstraction by its definition is broadly about ideas. My work is influenced by theory, science, nature, and evolutionary processes. Those processes are similar to jazz in particular and its ebb and flow, its conversational performance. In 1972, I completed my last figurative painting of several gymnasts on parallel bars, on mats, vaulting horses, and so on. I realized then that the painting was not about figures but about movement, direction, and space.…”

She continued: “Abstraction is not merely taking things, ideas, and objects apart. For me, abstraction is about possibilities and the potential of the real to become something other. Abstraction offers me opportunities to remake the real. I find abstraction in literature, philosophy, and science; these fields allow me to make unlikely connections to engage with in my practice.”

This week, Paula Cooper will feature paintings by Hawkins in its booth at Art Basel Miami Beach, alongside work by a variety of other artists on the gallery’s roster, including Terry Adkins, Ja’Tovia Gary, Eric N. Mack, and Veronica Ryan. The gallery is presenting works that explore the theme of nature and will show examples from a 1986 series by Hawkins called Investigations into Green. CT


IMAGE: Top of page, Artist Portrait. | © Cynthia Hawkins. Courtesy the artist, Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, and STARS, Los Angeles. Photo by Todd Smith Fleming


FIND MORE about Cynthia Hawkins on her website


Cynthia Hawkins is featured in the catalog “Painting in New York 1971–83,” which documents an exhibition exploring the work of 30 women artists recently presented at Karma Gallery in New York. “Just Above Midtown: Changing Spaces” was published on the occasion of the exhibition of the same name at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Co-organized by JAM Founder Linda Goode Bryant and MoMA curator Thomas (T.) Jean Lax, the show paid tribute to JAM, a storied gallery space and community platform with a profound legacy of serving pivotal figures early in their careers, including artists David Hammons, Cynthia Hawkins, Senga Nengudi, Lorraine O’Grady, and Howardena Pindell. The fully illustrated catalog features essays by Lax and Kellie Jones, a conversation between Bryant and Thelma Golden, oral histories, archival documents, and more.


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