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The paintings of Paul Jenkins have come to represent the spirit, vitality, and invention of post World War II American abstraction. Employing an unorthodox approach to paint application, Jenkins' fame is as much identified with the process of controlled paint-pouring and canvas manipulation as with the gem-like veils of transparent and translucent colour which have characterized his work since the late 1950s.
Born at Kansas City in Missouri (USA), the multi-media artist, poet and playwright Paul Jenkins studied at the Kansas City Art Institute and the Art Students League in New York City. After his discharge from military service at the end of February 1946, he briefly studied playwriting with dramatist George McCalmon at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh. Thereafter, Jenkins spent four years studying with Japanese American artist Yasuo Kuniyoshi in New York City. His first solo exhibitions were held at Studio Paul Facchetti in Paris in 1954 and the Martha Graham Gallery in New York City in 1956. Over the past thirty years, numerous retrospectives have been curated across the globe and Jenkins’ work can found in national collections from Europe and the United States to Israel, Australia and Japan.
The diversity of his work springs from Jenkins’ wealth of eclectic influences. Some of his earliest works included what he called "interior landscapes" influenced by ancient natural forms like the caves he visited in the Ozark Mountains in his native-Missouri. Frequent student visits to the Frick Collection in New York fostered a love of the great masters: Bellini, Holbein, Vermeer, Rembrandt, de la Tour, Turner and Goya. In compliment, lingering student visits to the renowned Eastern collection of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City evoked powerful sympathy for a monumental Chinese fresco of Buddha, polychrome sculptures of the enlightened Bodhisattva, the Buddhist goddess of mercy Kuan-Yin, Indian bronzes of Hindu god Shiva, and statues of meditative Buddhist lohans. Serving in the US Naval Air Corps during the Second World War, Jenkins painted watercolours of Japanese Kabuki dancers and read the ancient Chinese poetic teachings of the I Ching and Lao Tse Tung’s Tao Te Ching, described by him as "masterpieces in simplicity". Jenkins’ discovery of psychoanalyst Carl Jung’s book Psychology and Alchemy was as illuminating for his practice as were formative meetings with dancer Martha Graham, architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and Abstract Expressionist painters Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Barnett Newman.
Concerned with colour and texture, nearness and distance, reality and mysticism, Jenkins’ work – so often associated with apparently random paint pouring - is a spiritual meditation on the nature of chance, balance, synchronicity, change and transformation. His ejection from an early art class in Kansas City for eating the still life appears instructive: "For me the pear is to be eaten and experienced, not painted”. Jenkins sought to reject the traditional Neo-Platonic approach to art as well as life in favour of a Taoist concern for the “present moment”. In this sense his paintings become spiritual reflections on the transitory present, life merely a rippled dance upon the water’s surface. The classic Taoist metaphor of moving water is, for example, explored in Jenkins’ Sea Escape (1951), a key work on paper using water as his “means and meaning".