Phenomena Paul as Saul

Paul Jenkins

Acrylic on Canvas
100 x 81cm
Signed: "Paul Jenkins" (Lower/Right)
Dated: 1989


Hanging in the collections of over 100 museums worldwide — and most notably in New York’s Museum of Modern Art and London’s Tate Gallery — American painter, Paul Jenkins is acknowledged as a fore runner in the Abstract Expressionist art movement. Jenkins worked amongst the greats of contemporary modernist movements, from Jackson Pollock to Mark Rothko. New York Times’  journalist, Randy Kennedy examines the affinities between Pollock and Jenkin’s approach to painting, explaining that:

Early on he adopted a tactile, chance-driven method of painting that privileged almost every technique over brushwork. Dribbling paint Pollock-like onto loose canvases, he allowed it to roll, pool and bleed, and he sometimes kneaded and hauled on the canvas — “as if it were a sail” he said once” (2012:1).

In this way, the viewer is confronted with a corporeal sensation when viewing Jenkin’s work — because of the physical presence of the artist’s hand and bodily movement in the paintings’ inception. Yet in contrast to the thick, globular dribbles of paint that are evident in Pollock’s work, for instance, Jenkins’ work is at once billowy, seeping across the canvas, as if the artist were still massaging the paint out and into any available paint-free space. The colourful opulence to which this technique gives birth explains why “Stuart Preston, reviewing his work in The New York Times in 1958, described [it] as “Abstract Expressionist rococo” (Kennedy 2012:2). 

This is particularly clear in the work “Phenomena Paul as Saul”, at the centre of which appears a pyramid of turquoise, canary, crimson and navy, streaking downwards, as if each colour is on the verge of dissolving into the other, yet still unique and distinct from that next to which it has been struck. The work is a “phenomena” — the prefix which Jenkins assigned to all his work from the 1960s onwards — as it is indeed a happening, and spectacle of colour and light. True to the ideals of the Abstract Expressionists, the work is far from static, as a nebulous pool of midnight blue appears to be expanding and seepingits way across the canvas. There is no indication of planning or control in the painting — instead it epitomises Jenkins’ claim that “I try to paint like a crapshooter throwing dice, utilising past experience and my knowledge of the odds … It’s a big gamble, and that’s why I love it” (Jenkins in Kennedy 2012:3).

It is this attitude of a risk-taker, and this confidence, which comes through in Jenkins’ work, which has been on the receiving end of so much critical acclaim that the paintings, rather than even the artist himself, “had a starring role in the Paul Mazursky movie “An Unmarried Woman”” (Kennedy 2012:3). In addition, since the artist’s passing in 2012, collecting his work will of course become more rare, and thus the opportunity to acquire a Jenkins is in fact a great privilege, a calling to be the guardian of a painting that will be revered for generations to come. 


Bibliography:          Kennedy, R. 2012. ‘Paul Jenkins, Painter of Abstract Artwork, Dies at 88. The New York Times. June 17. Online. Accessed: 17 July 2016.

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