Paul Jenkins was an abstract expressionist, a painter’s painter, whose work can be found in at least eighty-five museums in more than ten countries around the world.
Early Life and Education
William Paul Jenkins was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1923, an only child, who was raised by his father, a realtor, after his parents divorced. Jenkins was influenced by the Asian art collection in Kansas City’s Nelson-Atkins Museum.
Jenkins moved to Struthers, Ohio when he was a teenager, where his mother and stepfather ran the local newspaper, The Struthers Journal. After he graduated from high school, Jenkins joined the U.S. Maritime Service and then served in the U.S. Naval Air Corps during World War ll.
After his service, Jenkins moved to New York and studied at the Art Students League with Japanese-American painter, Yasuo Kuniyoshi. Jenkins became part of the New York art scene which, at the time, included artists like Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman.
In 1953, Jenkins travel to Sicily and then to Paris, where he had his first exhibit in 1954 at Studio Paul Facchetti on the Rue de Lille where, two years before, the gallery had exhibited the works of Jackson Pollock. Jenkins first exhibit in the U.S. was held in Seattle in 1955, followed by his first solo exhibition in New York, in 1956, at the Martha Jackson Gallery, from which the Whitney Museum purchased Divining Rod for its permanent collection.
Jenkins divided his time between a studio in Paris and a loft near Union Square in New York that had belonged to Willem de Koonig. Influenced by Eastern Philosophy, astrology, and the writings of Carl Jung, Jenkins used an ivory knife to move paint through the surface of his canvas.
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. “I have conversations with them,” he said of his paintings, “and they tell me what they want to be called.” Jenkins success, especially in Europe, allowed him to live an elegant lifestyle, hosting parties for guests like Danielle Mitterrand, the first lady of France, Paloma Picasso, Robert Motherwell and Berenice Abbott.
His paintings were prominently featured in Paul Mazursky’s 1978 movie An Unmarried Woman, starring Jill Clayburgh, with Alan Bates playing her sexy, Manhattan artist and lover. Jenkins taught Bates how to spread the paint across the canvas. Jenkins also sculpted, worked in glass and continued to refine his technique throughout his lifetime.
His works can be found at the Smithsonian, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Guggenheim, MoMA, the Tate, London, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and many other galleries and private collections around the world. In an unprecedented move, the Strand Bookstore on Broadway, where Jenkins was a frequent visitor, devoted an entire window to him when they learnt of his death.
Jenkins was married three times and had one daughter. He died in New York in 2012, at age 88.