Weaver Hawkins’s Atomic Power (1947) applies several different styles to depict an apocalyptic scene of nuclear destruction. In the foreground, rendered in a fractured cubist perspective, a man in a pilot’s uniform holds global navigational charts. In his left hand, a radioactive substance emits a bluish glow that envelops his body. As he gazes at it in astonishment, a mushroom-shaped cloud from a nuclear explosion wreaks havoc in the distance. Dead bodies lie behind him, next to crumbling cityscapes left and right. At his feet, a human skull lies on a gruesome carpet-like scene: silhouettes of men, women, and children killed by the atomic blast are imprinted on the ground, flattened and incinerated by the explosion. In the middle ground, a naked man and woman wander hand in hand through the desolate landscape. The atomic power of the painting’s title appears in the deceptively small amount of material in the pilot’s hand. His maps, representing scientific knowledge, suggest the potential for global destruction wrought by nuclear weapons.
Hawkins understood that the United States’ use of atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, was a tragedy for all humanity. He hoped that his art would serve to warn the public about the dangers of nuclear weapons, believing that art should improve lives rather than provide enjoyment for the privileged few. Hawkins eschewed allegiance to one style, instead mixing figurative, cubist, and expressionist tendencies to promote political awareness and activism in the new atomic age.