Paul Jenkins


Paul Jenkins was born in 1923, in Kansas City, and initially worked in a ceramics factory. This experience was influential in developing his tactile approach to art, and was supplemented by life drawings sessions and visits to the Nelson-Atkins Museum. During World War Two, he joined the US Naval Air Corps, but continued drawing. When he left he Air Corps, Jenkins used the GI Bill in order to study at the Art Students League. He was taught by Yasuo Kuniyoshi, and met luminaries such as Pollock, Rothko, and de Kooning (at one point, he used the latter’s studio). These illustrious friendships were supplemented by an early relationship with Frank Lloyd Wright.


His early paintings moved from initial figuration to an abstraction that was based on chance and experimentation—dribbling paint over canvas, he let it roll over the surface, at times guided by an ivory knife. He started to use a liquid binder that aided this technique, paint curling across his canvases. These experiments were first truly realised in ‘Sea Escape’ (1951), where he mixed seawater into his paint, complementing his subject matter.


Jenkins travelled extensively in Europe, then settled in Paris in 1953, marking the start of a life divided between Paris and New York. Having come to the former, he had his first solo show, at Studio Paul Facchetti, in 1954. He also met Michel Tapié and co-edited the Observations of Michel Tapié in 1956. At the end of the 1950s, he moved away from oil on canvas, and began to use acrylic, as well as powdered pigments and a viscous enamel paint called chrysochrome. He also became influenced by the I Ching, Jung, and Zen in the Art of Archery.


In 1956, Jenkins moved back to New York, where he had his first solo American show at the Martha Jackson Gallery, the first of many. He also began his famous Eyes of the Dove series in 1958, swirling colours twisting and contorting, bleeding into one another.


Jenkins had his first retrospective at the Kestner-Gesellschaft of Hanover, followed in 1971 by the Houston Museum of Fine Arts and the San Francisco Museum of Art. In 1980 he was named Officer of Arts and Letters by the Republic of France, then Commander in 1983. In 1982 he received the Humanitarian Award from the National Committee of Arts for the Handicapped. In the same year, he started to work with granular poured veils on scraped prism forms. He had also been experimenting with collages for years (culminating in 'Anatomy of a Cloud') and began to integrate these into his canvases.


Exhibiting and travelling widely, Jenkins has also created sets for performances, written dance dramas (including Shaman to the Prism Seen), made sculptures and worked with metal. In 1997, he received the Life Achievement Award from the Butler Institute of American Art, together with the medal of the City of Paris. He died in 2012, leaving bold, often enormous canvases, that show veils of colour bleeding and flowing into one another, billowing across white space. 


Paul Jenkins' estate is represented by the Redfern Gallery.

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