Paul Jenkins: Painter whose art brimmed with the energy of life


The American artist Paul Jenkins, whose unorthodox application of paint by an alchemy of pouring techniques brought him association with the great Abstract Expressionists, has died in New York City at the age of 88. Born in a lightning storm in Kansas City in 1923, he started as he meant to go on, enjoying a somewhat epic life which found friendship with luminaries such as Jean Dubuffet, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning et al, whose support of him was as noteworthy for its affection as for its endurance – a distinction not always granted to artists at the top of the pile.

He was a softly spoken, warm and familial person at first meeting. When young, he resembled a prophet in the making; in later life he fully looked the part and to an extent lived it: greatly interested in astrology, his first question on meeting would be to ascertain people's sun sign. Thereafter he would formulate an informed opinion of their likely behaviour and feelings about one another, while encouraging the best of their skills and talents. The study of Eastern religions, the I Ching and Jungian philosophy compounded the measured spirituality of his existence, and made him congenial company.

Paul Jenkins was the only child of a Missouri realtor from whom his mother was soon divorced, a circumstance that impacted significantly on him. His great uncle was a friend of Frank Lloyd Wright and a preacher who influenced him greatly, including via his own personal motto, "live dangerously".

For Jenkins, however, a home-loving Cancerian to the core, this mostly translated into early extended periods of travel to Europe, following his art training at Kansas City Art Institute (and an apprenticeship in a ceramics factory) funded on the GI Bill via the Art Students League. He went initially to Sicily, then Spain, and later to France, which in time became a second home for the rest of his life.

His first exhibition was held in Paris in 1954; his first in the US was in Seattle in the following year, and that city's museum was the first one to acquire his work. Eighty-five museums in more than 10 countries followed suit. In addition, he continually showed in private galleries worldwide, the last of which in the UK being in 2011 at Redfern Gallery, London, who had represented him since 2002.

Redfern Gallery shared with Paul Jenkins a birth year of 1923, an auspicious fact behind his selection of it as a UK agent. His last exhibition was with Robert Green Fine Arts, Mill Valley, near San Francisco, earlier this year. One show eluded him while he was alive, however: he was proud of his Welsh ancestry, and given that the National Museum of Wales had acquired five of his works he always hoped for an exhibition there. In 1964 he donated a bust of the poet Dylan Thomas to the Museum, via the actor Richard Burton, in a ceremony in Manhattan.

As might also be expected, Jenkins' homes were places of warmth and comfort. In New York's Upper East Side, his brownstone house was ranged with choice acquisitions of all kinds: prisms and oriental objects of art as well as decorative panels devised as collages comprising paper and wood. Added to these were stones, rocks and found objects that to him were irresistible and gathered for their sometimes mystical powers. He retained homes in Paris and also in St Paul de Vence, near Nice, where he'd converted a sizeable industrial building into a home and workspace. This was also filled with masses of decorative items, lovingly collected. From the mid-1950s, half of each year he spent in New York, half in Paris or Provence.

In 1977 he met the photographer and art historian Suzanne Donnelly when she began work on his archive material that eventually became their joint book Anatomy of a Cloud, a giant tome – one of 24 by him in total – published in 1983 by Harry N Abrams. Work on the archives continued and over 12 linear feet of archive material are held by the Smithsonian Institution covering his life dating from 1932 to 2009, including time in the 1950s and '60s spent in NYC and Paris. He and Suzanne married in 1979.

Paul Jenkins' work has been painstakingly described and dissected by art critics, who have attempted to put across his meltingly apocalyptic, eerily monumental commitment to a life steeped in appreciation of energy in its myriad forms. What maybe is clearest to most observers of them is that they are accessible paintings – rather as he was himself, although their depths are not necessarily the easiest to figure out – multi-layered, and highly regarded.

In an unusual move, the Strand Bookstore on Broadway – which as a lover of books he frequented – devoted an entire window to him when they learnt of his death.

Julian Machin

Paul Jenkins, painter and writer: born Kansas City 12 July 1923; married firstly Esther Ebenhoe, secondly Alice Baber, thirdly Suzanne Donnelly; one daughter; died New York City 9 June 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Rooney celebrates with striker-partner Radamel Falcao after the pair combine to put United ahead
footballManchester United vs Newcastle match report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all