The Colorful Life of American Artist Paul Jenkins

Paul Jenkins created paintings and other works of art that came to be highly recognized after World War II. Jenkins experimented with paint and his technique involved pouring paint on canvas and directing the paint with great skill. His work has been described as luminous, very sheer and light; an almost transparent or translucent effect. In the 50’s, Jenkins began to add turpentine to his paints. Pouring the paint directly onto the canvas, Jenkins was able to create thin glazes of color that contrasted with dense shapes, giving the paintings form. His use of color and flow distinguished him from his peers. He became associated with great Abstract Impressionists including Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko.

Jenkins’ Artistic Life

Paul Jenkins (1923-2012) was born in Kansas City, MO. He studied at the Kansas City Art Institute between 13 and 18 years of age. It was in Kansas City that he met Frank Lloyd Wright and Thomas Hart Benton.

As a teenager, Jenkins moved to Ohio where he lived with his mother and stepfather. After graduating from high school, he served in the military after which, funded by the GI Bill, he moved to New York. The year was 1948 and it was here that he studied at the Art Students League of New York. During this time, he connected with the Abstract Expressionist movement and became associated with Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko.

Traveling to Europe in 1953, he went to Sicily, then Spain, and later France where Paris became Jenkins’ second home for the rest of his life. The artist travelled between New York and Paris during his life. His first solo exhibition took place in 1954 in Paris followed by Seattle and that city’s museum was the first one to acquire his work. He held his first solo exhibition in New York in 1956 at a leading gallery, the Martha Jackson Gallery. Exhibitions in eighty-five museums in more than 10 countries followed. Jenkins’ received notoriety in the ‘50s.

Jenkins at times called himself “an abstract phenomenist.” Early in his career his works were done in oil and he also turned to using ink and watercolor. Jenkins’ interests grew in Eastern religions and philosophy. It was 1959 and 1960 from interest in readings that he began to add the title “Phenomena” to his works.
In 1960 Jenkins moved from working in oil on canvas to acrylic. He began to paint with an ivory knife. The ivory knife resulted in Jenkins achieving defined edges of his forms. In 1964, he traveled to Tokyo for his exhibition at the Tokyo Gallery and worked with the Gutai group, the first radical, post-war artistic group in Japan.
In 1968, Jenkins began the creation of a limited number of unique sculptures in glass. Several of these works were shown in a 2007 exhibition. While Jenkins did some sculpture in the 50’s, it became more dominant in the ‘70s. In 1971, Jenkins carved a 2-ton block of French limestone that currently resides in the collection of the Hofstra Museum Sculpture Garden in Hempstead, New York. Jenkins created the first drawing for Meditation Mandala, a sculpture project for a park. It was in the ‘80s that he began to build full-scale elements of the Meditation Mandala sculpture in steel and in the late ‘90s the steel elements of Meditation Mandala were installed in the sculpture garden of Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY.
In 1971, the Houston Museum of Fine Arts and the San Francisco Museum of Art presented a collection of Jenkins’s work. An exhibition of his watercolors which traveled across the US for two years was first shown in Washington, D.C. But he got a big break when his works were featured in the Academy Award nominated Paul Mazursky movie, “An Unmarried Woman,” in 1078. Jenkins taught Alan Bates some of his painting methods so Bates could play a character based on Jenkins.
In 1979, in the Caribbean, he completed Phenomena Forcing a Passage at the Mark, an important painting to him. Collages began to appear in his work. Prior to the publication of Anatomy of a Cloud in 1983, the artist’s collages were largely unknown. An exception is the 1978 exhibition in New York, which integrated sculptural elements with collage.
It was in the ‘80s that Jenkins pursued working in acrylic and watercolor. It was during this time that he also staged a dance-drama in Paris that he had written and presented his artwork in the production. Abstract collage elements also begin to appear in his works on canvas.

During the remainder of his career, Jenkins continued to produce works on canvas, watercolors, original lithographs on stone, with his creations exhibited at numerous locations. He was prolific and his works which span decades express great variety, energy, and vibrance. He was a man who traveled the world.
The Paul Jenkins: The Color of Light in 2010 exhibition displayed watercolors and painted canvas.

Locations of his Works

The artistic works of Jenkins are displayed in international museums and collections. As late as 2007, 2008, 2009 Jenkins donated around 5,000 personal papers to the Smithsonian Institution.


Jenkins is remembered as a man with a quiet, warm demeanor. He developed friendships that lasted his entire life and secured a following of well-known people of his time who purchased his artwork. His homes were warm and comfortable displaying a variety of artistic influences in their architectural structure. He loved to decorate and filled his homes with a large quantity of adorning items.


Jenkins died in New York in 2012. A window was devoted to him at The Strand Bookstore in Manhattan which the artist loved to frequent.

Purchasing Pieces of Paul Jenkins’ Art Collection

Jenkins’s works are included in the permanent collections at numerous galleries. A person interested in purchasing the artist’s work should pay attention to auction houses in Dania Beach, FL. There, they may have the opportunity to bid on some of these pieces for their own collections.

Selling the Works of Paul Jenkins

Do you have works by Paul Jenkins that you are interested in selling, appraising or cosigning? Call Joshua Kodner today, and ensure you receive the true value of your property.