Renowned self-taught artist William Hawkins is known for his graphic, large-scale images depicting animals, architecture, religious scenes and historic events. In 1989, the artist was particularly interested in both animals and grayscale work, though these two areas of exploration are not often found within the same composition. White Elephant is an excellent and unusual marriage of the technical and content-based concerns that mark this period of the artist’s oeuvre.
White Elephant is a study in texture and paint manipulation. A collaged, printed human eye, likely drawn from a magazine, brings the elephant to life and adds a humorous pop of color to the form. Hawkins would often tilt his surfaces after applying his signature semi-gloss enamel paint, allowing for the artwork to, at times, "make itself." This technique is evident in the tendrils of black paint near the elephant’s front and rear legs. The sweeps of his paint brushes are also evident, especially in the texture within the animal’s body and staccato spots that surround the work.
Hawkins often painted borders directly on his pieces, seen here in the dotted pattern skirting the Masonite, to save his patrons the expense of purchasing frames. He also took great pride in his role as an artist, and as such always signed his work in large block lettering, including his birth date alongside his name, an element that features prominently along the lower edge of this piece.