Paul Jenkins: Coloring the Phenomenal
Paul Jenkins was renowned for his technique of controlled paint pouring and use of translucent colors. His paintings drew upon a wide range of philosophies from Gurdjieff to Goethe, Jung to Zen Buddhism, astrology to alchemy. Jenkins remarked of his painting process, “I try to paint like a crapshooter throwing dice, utilizing past experience and my knowledge of the odds. It’s a big gamble, and that’s why I love it.” A combination of chance and control (Jenkins used a dull ivory knife to guide the paint) reveals paintings of dazzling depth and beauty with their sinuous seams and arcs of phenomenal colors.
Jenkins primed his canvas so that unlike other Color Field artists, the paint did not soak in and instead, flowed and pooled. Whether oil, acrylic, or watercolor, Jenkins displayed a mastery over these media so that both the process and the product are united.
Not objects to be analyzed, these paintings are to be experienced, the color and movement washing over the viewer, guided by the suggestive titles. Equal parts painter, mystic, and magician, Jenkins materializes phenomenal, sensory objects. Within his works, we see literal phenomena of color splashed across the canvas with only minimal intervention from the artist. By letting ourselves dissolve within the canvas, we are able to feel Jenkins’s impulse to emphasize and resolve the tension between latent and extant meaning through color.
Paul Jenkins was born in 1923 in Kansas City, Missouri where, growing up, he met Frank Lloyd Wright who recommended Jenkins take up a career in agriculture over art. He studied at the Arts League of New York under Yasuo Kuniyoshi and in the city, met and became friends with Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Barnett Newman and other abstract expressionists. Within this storied group, Jenkins’s works more closely followed the color field artists like Newman, Morris Louis, and Helen Frankenthaler.
Paul Jenkins was friends with Willem de Kooning and even took over de Kooning’s loft near Union Square in New York City. Jenkins lived in the loft from 1963 until 2000. A documentary on Jenkins, “The Ivory Knife” – an allusion to his tool of choice, won the Gold Eagle Award at the 1966 Venice Film Festival. Not his only foray into the film world, Jenkins provided paintings for the Academy Award nominated film “An Unmarried Woman” and taught Alan Bates how to paint for his role as an artist within the movie.