Weaver Hawkins

Atomic Power

Hawkins Atomic Power Art Gallery Of New South Wales1 1500 - © Estate of HF Weaver Hawkins. Photo: AGNSW
  • Weaver Hawkins
  • Atomic Power
  • 1947
  • Oil on hardboard
  • 61 x 78,5 cm
  • Art Gallery of New South Wales, purchased 1976 - © Estate of HF Weaver Hawkins. Photo: AGNSW

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.

Megan Hines

Biography of Weaver Hawkins

  • Born 1893 in Sydenham, London, UK
  • Died 1977 in Willoughby, Australia
Harold Frederick Weaver Hawkins had studied to become an art teacher before enlisting in World War I. After sustaining serious injuries to his right arm during the Battle of the Somme in 1916, he learned to paint and draw with his left hand. To avoid the stigmatized label of “wounded artist,” he briefly created art under the pseudonym Raokin in 1927, but later became known as Weaver Hawkins. After traveling widely, he and his family settled in Australia in 1935. Hawkins’s work explored the consequences of the modern age, from drawings of workers to moralistic works about atomic war to spiritual paintings. His style exhibits influences from such movements as Vorticism, Surrealism, and social realism. He was a founding member of both the Contemporary Art Society of New South Wales, of which he was president in 1952 and again from 1954 to 1963, and the Sydney Printmakers group. He had his first retrospective at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1976.