Paul Jenkins, 1923-2012


Jenkins was a painter without a paint brush. His work has often been exhibited in the same venues as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, artists who shared his instinctual working method.

In a 2009 review of his work, Roberta Smith described his paintings as “too beautiful for their own good”

His intuitive approach to painting, first with oil paints and later acrylic, involved pouring paint directly on the canvas, allowing it to drip, bleed, and pool, while manipulating it with an ivory knife. Although he occasionally used a brush to finish a painting, his fluid, luminous, psychedelic landscapes are void of paint strokes.

Jenkins’ work is found in international museums and collections including The Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and San Francisco, Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, and the Tate Gallery in London.Thousands of items from the artist’s archives are now at the Archives of American Art of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC.


Paul Jenkins was an American painter who came to maturity during the reign of the Abstract Expressionists. Born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1923, he studied for a time as a teenager at the Kansas City Art Institute while working at a ceramics factory. In 1948, after his military service, he moved to New York City to attend the Art Students League, studying for four years with Yasuo Kuniyoshi and befriending fellow art- ists Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. He then travelled to Paris in 1953, where he began to translate to a new medium, the luminous effects of glazing he observed in ceramics.

Jenkins transitioned to painting in acrylic on canvas in 1960. He applied thinned acrylic to primed white canvas, he often used bright, bold colours in his works, and, from 1960, preceded his titles with the word “phenomena” – something that is impressive and extraordinary.

Throughout the 1960s, Jenkins’ work was shown at major galleries and museums worldwide. In 1963, he took over de Kooning’s light-infused loft in Union Square where he worked until 2000.

Regarding his paintings, Jenkins once said, “I have conversations with them, and they tell me what they want to be called”. Until his death in New York City in June 2012, Jenkins continued to work in acrylic on canvas, as well as watercolour on paper