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Paul Jenkins

American, 1923-2012
Phenomena Hokusai Fall, 1974, Acrylic on canvas, 30 x 40 inches
Phenomena Hokusai Fall, 1974, Acrylic on canvas, 30 x 40 inches

Roberta Smith described his paintings as “too beautiful for their own good.”

Paul Jenkins was an American painter who came to maturity during the reign of the Abstract Expressionists. Born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1923, he studied for a time as a teenager at the Kansas City Art Institute while also working weekends and summers at a ceramics factory.  In 1948, after his military service in the US Naval Air Corp, he moved to New York City to attend the Art Students League under the G.I. Bill, studying for four years with Yasuo Kuniyoshi. He remained at the Art Students League until 1952, befriending fellow artists Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. Not yet ready to act on the prevailing influences of Abstract Expressionism, he traveled to Europe. Settling in Paris in 1953, he began to translate to a new medium the luminous effects of glazing he observed in ceramics.

Paul Jenkins was an American painter who came to maturity during the reign of the Abstract Expressionists. Born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1923, he studied for a time as a teenager at the Kansas City Art Institute while also working weekends and summers at a ceramics factory.  In 1948, after his military service in the US Naval Air Corp, he moved to New York City to attend the Art Students League under the G.I. Bill, studying for four years with Yasuo Kuniyoshi. He remained at the Art Students League until 1952, befriending fellow artists Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. Not yet ready to act on the prevailing influences of Abstract Expressionism, he traveled to Europe. Settling in Paris in 1953, he began to translate to a new medium the luminous effects of glazing he observed in ceramics.

 

In 1955, he returned to New York for a yearlong stay, and in 1956, had his first one-man exhibition in New York with the Martha Jackson Gallery, who went on to represent him for nearly two decades. From that point on, Jenkins would share his time between New York and in Paris throughout his life. Jenkins transitioned to painting in acrylic on canvas in 1960. He applied thinned acrylic to primed white canvas, typically starting at the corners, and manipulated its flow by adjusting the canvas’ position, sometimes also using blade-like devices to direct the paint further. He often used bright, bold colors in his works, and, from 1960, preceded his titles with the word “phenomena.”  His paintings are indeed phenomena – something that is impressive and extraordinary. In a 2009 review of his work, Roberta Smith described his paintings as “too beautiful for their own good.” Jenkins worked in this mode for the entirety of his career. He was the subject of two major retrospectives at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts and the San Francisco Museum of Art in 1971-1972. Jenkins’ work received much wider exposure in 1978 when it was featured in the movie An Unmarried Woman. Starring Alan Bates, the movie chronicled the life of a Manhattan artist; the works supposedly done by Bates’ character were actually those of Jenkins, who reportedly spent weeks coaching the actor in the finer points of his working process. Jenkins died in New York City in 2012.

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