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Paul JENKINS

(1923 - 2012)


After studying at the Kansas City Art Institute (1937-1942), Paul Jenkins was drafted into the USAAF (1943-1945). After the ear, he enrolled in the Art Students League (1948-1952), where he met Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. At the end of his student days he journeyed through Europe, spent time in Italy and Spain, and moved to Paris in 1953, where he visited the little American artistic colony in Paris. He also met Georges Mathieu and Paul Facchetti, who in1954 organised his first individual exhibition. Unlike most of the Americans who lived in Paris, Jenkins had no difficulties in exhibiting his work in the US. After his first exhibition at Zoe Dusanne’s in Seattle in 1955, Martha Jackson (whose gallery that had exhibited Tapies, Gorky, De Kooning and Sam Francis) exhibited his works in New York in 1956, and the Whitney bought one of his canvases (Divining Rod). Between 1958 and 1973 the Martha Jackson Gallery organised nine solo shows. The period from 1959to 1960 was a watershed in his technique: he started working with acrylic binders and extended his range of colours with a long ivory knife which enabled him by scraping and smoothing to obtain an exceptional transparency, airiness and prismatic light. These paintings are known by the generic name of Phenomena; they forget that painting is a nuanced mass, retaining only the light. He had studied Kant and Goethe since 1959, and in 1976 worked on his paintings on the implications of Newton’s prism. Jenkins divided his time between Paris and New York from the 1950s, but his first retrospective was held in Germany, in the Hanover Kestnergesellschaft (1964-1965). Willem de Kooning sold him a studio in New York in 1963, where he was to work until 2000. From then he spent many years dividing his time between the USA and France, and worked in various studios in New York, Paris and Saint-Paul de Vence. Paul Jenkins died in New York in 2012. A man who is considered one of the great masters of Expressionist Abstraction was at the beginning drawn to the theatre. One of his most important creations in this field came in 1987, at the initiative of Jean-Louis Martinoty, who gave him free hands for the spectacle, co-authored with his wife, Suzanne Donnelly-Jenkins: Le Prisme de chaman (1986), wanted “to retrace, in the form of a dance drama, the passage of colour through a prism” (Le Monde, May 27, 1987). He was given the Salle Favart with the choreography of Simone Benmussa to the music of Henri Dutilleux in 1987 at the Paris Opera.

Paul Jenkins
Paul Jenkins, 1988

La Fondation Maeght conserve dans ses collections deux peintures de l'artiste.