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 Paul Jenkins  (1923 - 2012)

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Lived/Active: New York/Kansas/Missouri / France      Known for: Abstract Expressionist painting

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Ad Code: 2
Paul Jenkins
from Auction House Records.
Phenomena Prism Emissary
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Following is The New York Times obituary of the artist:

Published: June 17, 2012

Paul Jenkins, a colorful Abstract Expressionist who came of age during the heyday of the New York School and for several decades carried on its highly physical tradition of manipulating paint and canvas, died on June 9 in Manhattan, where he lived and had continued to paint until recently. He was 88.

He died after a short illness, said his wife, Suzanne.

In the late 1940s, joining a wave of aspiring painters moving to New York, Mr. Jenkins used the G.I. Bill to study at the Art Students League and soon met Jackson Pollock and befriended Mark Rothko.

Early on he adopted a tactile, chance-driven method of painting that relied on almost every technique but rarely brushwork. Dribbling paint, Pollock-like, onto loose canvases, he allowed it to roll, pool and bleed, and he sometimes kneaded and hauled on the canvas ? "as if it were a sail," he said once. His favorite tool for many years was an elegant ivory knife, which he used to guide the flow of paint.

The billowy, undulating results could look like psychedelic landscapes or what Stuart Preston, reviewing his work in The New York Times in 1958, described as "Abstract Expressionist rococo." Influenced by the theories of Jung and by the visionary imagery of Odilon Redon and Gustave Moreau, Mr. Jenkins described himself as an "abstract phenomenist," and from the 1960s on, all his paintings' titles began with the word "Phenomena."

"I have conversations with them," he said of his paintings, "and they tell me what they want to be called."

His work attracted collectors and museums in the United States, but he had a stronger following in Europe, where, with his flowing hair and beard ? a friend said he looked like Charlton Heston's Moses ? he seemed to embody an old-fashioned archetype of the avant-garde artist. In a 2009 review of work from the 1960s and '70s, Roberta Smith wrote in The Times that Mr. Jenkins's paintings were "more a popular idea of abstract art than the real thing" and "too gorgeous for their own good."

William Paul Jenkins was born ? during a lightning storm, according to his official biography ? in Kansas City, Mo., on July 12, 1923. As a boy, he met both Thomas Hart Benton and Frank Lloyd Wright. (Wright suggested that he should think about a career in agriculture rather than art.) He worked weekends at a ceramics factory, where watching the master mold-maker's handling of shape and color, he said, had a profound effect on his ideas about painting.

By the 1970s and '80s, his art career had provided him with a glamorous lifestyle, divided between France, where his paintings graced a Pierre Cardin boutique, and New York, where he worked in an airy loft near Union Square that had previously belonged to Willem de Kooning. The first lady of France, Danielle Mitterrand, once visited the studio, and the party he gave for her was attended by guests like Paloma Picasso, Robert Motherwell and Berenice Abbott.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Jenkins is survived by his daughter, Hilarie Jenkins.

In 1971, the Houston Museum of Fine Arts and the San Francisco Museum of Art organized a retrospective of Mr. Jenkins's work. But he got much more exposure in 1978, when his paintings had a starring role in the Paul Mazursky movie "An Unmarried Woman," in which Alan Bates plays a smoldering, heavily bearded Manhattan artist. The paintings supposedly done by the Bates character were actually his work.

Mr. Jenkins spent weeks teaching Mr. Bates how to approximate his methods of paint-pouring and canvas-wrestling, a way of making art he described as tempting fate.
"I try to paint like a crapshooter throwing dice, utilizing past experience and my knowledge of the odds," he said in 1964. "It's a big gamble, and that's why I love it."

Online Source:

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Kansas City, Missouri, Paul Jenkins was early associated with Abstract Expressionism and noted for his experimentation with pouring paint onto canvases and for heavily impastoed, illuminated paintings with spiritual, metaphysical qualities that set him apart from many of his peers.  Zen Buddhism and the writing of Carl Jung much influenced the spiritual direction of his painting.

As a teenager Paul Jenkins worked in a ceramics factory where he learned about color variations and form.  Precocious in his art abilities, he became a student at the Kansas City Art Institute from 1937 to 1942, when he was ages 14 to 18.

His interest in and talent for theater earned him a fellowship to the Cleveland Playhouse, and then he went to the Drama School of the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh.  From 1943 to 1945, he served in the U.S. Naval Air Corps during World War II.  Then determining to be an artist, he went to New York City where he studied at the Art Students League from 1948 to 1952 and was influenced the most by instructors Yasuo Kuniyoshi and Morris Kantor. Later, becoming a teacher he was at the Santa Fe Institute of Fine Arts in 1986.

In 1953, he went to Paris where he has lived for long periods of time alternating with New York City.  He first studied at the American Artists Center where he began his experiments with pouring paint on canvas in various thicknesses to create a sense of dynamism in the process itself.  For him, each work became a spiritual journey of discovery, and his exposure of white canvas combined with color saturations gave a sense of illumination about his work.

A 1966 film, "The Ivory Knife: Paul Jenkins at Work," focused on his life and his working techniques.

Jenkins also became a lithographer, and many of these works as well as his early paintings reflected his interest in mysticism and his belief that his work was god inspired.  In 1963, influenced by Wolfgang Wols and Mark Tobey, he began to layer pigment by pouring it in various thicknesses and designs.  Fluidity and flow of paint inspired by mood characterized these paintings suggesting that the earth and its inhabitants are in a constant state of change.

Sources include:
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art
Matthew Baigell, Dictionary of American Art
Peter HastingsFalk (editor), Who Was Who in American Art
Marika Herskovic, American Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s: An Illustrated Survey

Biography from
Paul Jenkins, American (1923 - 2012)

Paul Jenkins, an artist originally associated with abstract expressionism, exhibits in his mature works a redefining of color, light and space on the canvas surface.

Born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1923, Jenkins worked as a teenager in a ceramics factory, where he was first exposed to color intensity and the creation of form. From age 14 to 18, he studied drawing and painting at the city's Art Institute.

Initially interested in drama, Jenkins received a fellowship to the Cleveland Playhouse, then continued his dramatic studies in Pittsburgh at the Drama School of the Carnegie Institute of Technology.

Deciding to become an artist, Jenkins moved to New York City in 1948 and studied at the Art Students League. During Jenkins's three years at the League, Yasuo Kuniyoshi and Morris Kantor were his influential instructors.

While Jenkins continued to live and paint in New York City, his personal explorations took a metaphysical turn, which would ultimately become dominant in his work.

P.D. Ouspensky's The Search of the Miraculous changed the artist's thoughts on human growth and limitations, while the Chinese I Ching, through its thematic emphasis on constant change, heightened his interest in flowing paint on canvas. Painting for Jenkins became an intuitive, almost mystical process. He commented, "I paint what God is to me."

In 1953, Jenkins traveled to Paris, where, a year later, he had his first one-man show. While working at the American Artists Center, he continued to experiment with flowing paints, pouring pigment in streams of various thicknesses, with white thin spills as linear overlays.

Jenkins's intent was to deny stasis and create a literal and metaphysical sense of dynamism, while maintaining a sense of unity. Beginning in 1958, Jenkins titled each canvas Phenomena, with additional identifying words. He believed the work to be descriptive of the discovery process inherent in each painting.

Paralleling his beliefs, the artist's paintings have undergone subtle but definite changes. Beginning in the early 1 960s, a shift of color saturation and exposure of the white areas gave Jenkins's canvases an enhanced feeling of illumination.

If Jenkins's technique is unorthodox, he is in many other ways a traditional artist. He works in an acrylic medium on traditional linen canvas or fine rag paper. Often he uses an ivory knife or a brush for finishing, but never allows a stroke to show.

Biography from Jerald Melberg Gallery:
A contemporary of American artists living in Paris in the 1950s, Paul Jenkins did work that represents the inventive spirit and energy of post-World War II abstraction.  Greatly influenced by Jackson Pollack and Mark Rothko, Jenkins is famous for his inventive method of pouring paint directly onto the canvas, as well as for pure, prismatic color. He often uses an ivory knife or a brush for finishing, but never allows a stroke to show.

The work of Paul Jenkins is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., the Tate Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, among many others.

Biography from Butler Institute of American Art:
The paintings of Paul Jenkins have come to represent the spirit, vitality, and invention of post World War II American abstraction.  Employing an unorthodox approach to paint application, Jenkins' fame is as much identified with the process of controlled paint-pouring and canvas manipulation as with the gem-like veils of transparent and translucent color, which have characterized his work since the late 1950s.

Born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1923, Jenkins was raised near Youngstown, Ohio. Drawn to New York, he became a student of Yasuo Kuniyoshi at the Art Students League and ultimately became associated with the Abstract Expressionists, inspired in part by the "cataclysmic challenge of Pollock and the total metaphysical consumption of Mark Tobey."

An ongoing interest in Eastern religions and philosophy, the study of the I Ching, along with the writings of Carl Jung prompted Jenkins' turn toward inward reflection and mysticism which have dominated his aesthetic as well as his life.

Dr. Louis A. Zona, Director The Butler Institute of American Art

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Paul Jenkins is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Abstract Expressionism

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