PAUL JENKINS b.
Side of St. George, 1968, 1968
Oil on canvas, 37 X 60" (93.98 X 152.40 cm.)
Signed, lower right
Gift of David Kluger, 968-0-205
The paintings of Paul Jenkins have come to represent the spirit, vitality, and invention of postWorld War II American abstraction. Employing an unorthodox approach to paint application, Jenkins's 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 color which have characterized his work since the late 1950s.
Born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1923, Jenkins was raised near Youngstown, Ohio. Drawn to New York, he became a student of Yasuo Kuniyoshi at the Art Students League and ultimately became associated with the Abstract Expressionists, inspired in part by the "cataclysmic challenge of Pollock and the total metaphysical consumption of Mark Toby."' An ongoing interest in Eastern religions and philosophy, the study of the I Ching, along with the writings of Carl Jung prompted Jenkins's turn toward inward reflection and mysticism which have dominated his aesthetic as well as his life.
Side of St. George, 1968 typifies the mature, developed style of the artist. It was created when Jenkins was celebrated as a cornerstone of Post Painterly Abstraction, that umbrella term applied by Clement Greenberg to describe the post-Abstract Expressionist approach to painting characterized by "color fields." These architectonic works were generally cool and even minimalistic, lacking the highly personal linear gestures and tactile ' surfaces associated with abstract painting in the fifties.
Jenkins's employment of titles, although generally intended to "secure an attitude toward the painting rather than provoke visual effect' 12 might, in the case of Side of St. George, 1968, suggest a more literal interpretation. In structure, the broad pours and linear elements subtly recall the classical Christian metaphor of good versus evil and the striking movement of the sword of the British Knight, St. George, as he slays the fire-breathing dragon. Formally, the work's rather symmetrical composition is not unlike St. George's cross which serves as the identifying emblem of the flags of the United Kingdom.
But while Side of St. George, 1968 in title and structure might encourage such narrative interpretation, it is more about formal interplay, the dynamics of color and the nuances of edge. In many ways Jenkins's paintings from this period extend the explorations of Leonardo da Vinci, who, in his last years, examined such unseen forces of nature as wind and ocean currents. Side of St. George, 1968, so typical of the artist's work of this period, might be thought of as a visual poem that brings to light both the physical and the spiritual forces which guide man and his creative energies. Jenkins's art has always served to respond to the larger questions which confront us.
LOUIS A. ZONA