Paul Jenkins (1923-2012)
Paul Jenkins was an American painter born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1923. From 1938 to 1941, he studied at the Art Institute of his hometown and worked as an apprentice in a ceramic factory. After the Second World War (in which he was enlisted), he left for New York and trained at the prestigious Art Students League from 1948 until 1951, during which he met Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Barnett Newman.
After travelling throughout Europe, Jenkins decided to move to Paris in 1953, where he met other American painters such as Sam Francis, as well as French painters including Georges Mathieu, Jean Dubuffet, and Pierre Soulages. From this point on Jenkins divided his time between New York and Paris. His first solo exhibition took place in Paul Fachetti’s studio in 1954. In 1955, he exhibited at Zoe Dusanne Gallery in Seattle, and was included in the exhibition at the Petit Palais in Paris: Artistes étrangers en France. As soon as 1956 he had become a major Abstract artist, exhibiting regularly, and notably, with renowned New York gallerist Martha Jackson.
Nourished by these multiple Second-Generation Abstract Expressionist influences, in the 1950s Jenkins endeavoured to create oils characterised by the density of the material spread over the whole canvas, like the enamel coating pottery to which he had been introduced as a young man.
Thereafter, Jenkins’ art evolved toward a dominance of colour. He affirmed that his influence ranged from the inventions of Gauguin and the pastels of Odilon Redon, to the works of Matisse and Kandinsky.
His work was facilitated by the use of acrylic starting in 1962: this easy to use medium made it possible to imitate the full range of watercolour to oil, depending on the paint’s dilution. He practiced the technique ‘controlled paint-pouring’, whereby he poured the paint directly onto the support, controlling his gesture by which he drew a sort of choreography. Alain Bosquet recalled the variations within this personal method: ‘The most original involved pouring the colours into the hollow of a curved sheet or canvas. Then, balanced…, folded slightly or unfolded, the colours were forced to become concentrated … and, therefore, to find their form.’ Bosquet also recalled another of Jenkins’ inventions: the use of a baton or ivory knife to help direct the forms, however, according to Bosquet, this technique does not constitute Action Painting.
Jenkins achieved total mastery of his own style during the 1960s. He created countless paintings all entitled Phenomena, in which expressions of colour stand out against a white ground, flowing and combining in dynamic movements. The contrasts of their fluid or dense masses create the impression of relief, and generate an intense vibration of light that to the painter has a prismatic effect.
‘I have always been drawn to two kinds of light: that of Georges de la Tour, which seems to radiate from the painting; and the reflected light which was most evident in Turner’s imagination. From these two sources – reflection and radiation – I have tried to achieve a kind of form in its own space, with a certain light that reveals itself from within, while the reflected light comes from the outside.’
For Jenkins, ‘It is not the method that is important. The method is only the grammar of intention, thought, and idea… But there is, at first, sensation, both perceptive and receptive, and with sensation: the experience of discovering and knowing what one does not have the time to explain in the moment itself.’
‘Colour that is a sensation and not an external manifestation of nature is not interchangeable because it is endowed with meaning,’ he said.
Indeed, Jenkins’ art is the fruit of a spiritual quest that did not cease to deepen since the time of his New York formation. Drawn primarily to the esoteric writings of the Russian Georges Gurdjieff who advocated an objective art (the only one capable of leading a person to an inner state of higher spirituality), Jenkins also studied Freud and especially Jung, before turning resolutely to the teachings of Zen Buddhism. Impressed by Eugène Herrigel’s book Le Zen dans l’art chevaleresque du tir à l’arc, Jenkins found within this philosophy the base of his artistic exploration.
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