Born in Kansas City, Missouri, Paul Jenkins was early associated with Abstract Expressionism and noted for his experimentation with pouring paint onto canvases and for heavily impastoed, illuminated paintings with spiritual, metaphysical qualities that set him apart from many of his peers. Zen Buddhism and the writing of Carl Jung much influenced the spiritual direction of his painting.
As a teenager Paul Jenkins worked in a ceramics factory where he learned about color variations and form. Precocious in his art abilities, he became a student at the Kansas City Art Institute from 1937 to 1942, when he was ages 14 to 18.
His interest in and talent for theater earned him a fellowship to the Cleveland Playhouse, and then he went to the Drama School of the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh. From 1943 to 1945, he served in the U.S. Naval Air Corps during World War II. Then determining to be an artist, he went to New York City where he studied at the Art Students League from 1948 to 1952 and was influenced the most by instructors Yasuo Kuniyoshi and Morris Kantor. Later, becoming a teacher he was at the Santa Fe Institute of Fine Arts in 1986.
In 1953, he went to Paris where he has lived for long periods of time alternating with New York City. He first studied at the American Artists Center where he began his experiments with pouring paint on canvas in various thicknesses to create a sense of dynamism in the process itself. For him, each work became a spiritual journey of discovery, and his exposure of white canvas combined with color saturations gave a sense of illumination about his work.
A 1966 film, "The Ivory Knife: Paul Jenkins at Work," focused on his life and his working techniques.
Jenkins also became a lithographer, and many of these works as well as his early paintings reflected his interest in mysticism and his belief that his work was god inspired. In 1963, influenced by Wolfgang Wols and Mark Tobey, he began to layer pigment by pouring it in various thicknesses and designs. Fluidity and flow of paint inspired by mood characterized these paintings suggesting that the earth and its inhabitants are in a constant state of change.
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art
Matthew Baigell, Dictionary of American Art
Peter HastingsFalk (editor), Who Was Who in American Art
Marika Herskovic, American Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s: An Illustrated Survey