Paul Jenkins and Robert Natkin: exhibition catalog


Heather James Palm Desert presents an exhibition exploring the works of Paul Jenkins and Robert Natkin. By bringing together these distinct artists, the exhibition highlights the similarities while also emphasizing their unique vision within the Color Field movement.

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. 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.

Working contemporaneously, Robert Natkin toiled away to create paintings of “the dappled infinite”, color planes filled with great depth. Within the diverse works exhibited, there are paintings from Natkin’s Apollo and Bern series. Unlike Jenkins, whose diverse paintings revolved around the singular idea of Phenomenon, Natkin cycled through different series, often times returning back to older ideas throughout his career. In the Apollo series, Natkin utilized vertical stripes as a framework which allowed him the freedom to experiment with color and light, hinted at in the namesake ancient Greek god of the series title.

The Bern series emerged following Natkin’s trip to Bern, Switzerland and his visit to the Paul Klee Foundation. An admirer of Klee’s from his days studying at the Art Institute of Chicago, Natkin incorporates Klee’s abstraction to create works of geometric forms dancing against deep, primordial colors. With works from the Apollo and Bern series as anchors, Natkin’s oeuvre comes into focus as themes of inner emotion and hidden narratives play out through the interplay of geometric shapes and shifts in color. The monumental Young Acrobat brings these ideas to maturity as amorphous forms flit and float against the soft, vacillating background.

In juxtaposing Paul Jenkins and Robert Natkin, the exhibition highlights their differing approaches to Color Field paintings. For Jenkins, we see literal phenomena of color splashed across the canvas with only minimal intervention from the artist. For Natkin, the canvases are careful studies of the interconnection between color and form to reveal hidden emotions. But just as there are stylistic differences, there are important similarities in their approach 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 follow the color field artists like Newman, Morris Louis, and Helen Frankenthaler.

Robert Natkin was born in 1930 and attended the Art Institute of Chicago where his study of the post-Impressionist painters including Henri Matisse made a huge impression on him. After reading an article on Jackson Pollock and Abstract Expressionism, Natkin dove into abstraction. Natkin moved from Chicago to New York City to further his career in abstract expressionism before eventually moving to Redding, New York and then Danbury, Connecticu