Carol Jenkins’ paintings offer moments of quiet contemplation and everyday beauty
By Rosemary Carstens
This story was featured in the October 2013 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art October 2013 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story!
“Very early in life, I was always drawing and painting,” says Colorado painter Carol Jenkins. “I remember standing at an easel in kindergarten and loving it!” The joy she found at the easel then has never changed, and today Jenkins finds subject matter wherever the light brightens a scene or an object and illuminates its distinctive character. From figures to interiors, still lifes to natural settings, it all inspires her. “I consider myself an intuitive painter,” she says. “I don’t put a lot of time into preliminary sketches or plotting out a composition.” From the moment her attention is captured, she jumps right in, confidently translating her vision to canvas. Although her imagery is highly personal and reflective of her general optimism about life, it also contains that kernel of universal appeal that invites viewers into her world.
Jenkins’ call to art came early, and she responded to it enthusiastically from the moment she won the prestigious National Scholastic Award in high school that paid a full year’s tuition to the art school of her choice. Thinking she wanted to be an illustrator, she chose Boston’s Vesper George School of Art. But after a year and a half, one of her teachers, Robert Douglas Hunter—considered the “dean” of the Boston School movement and a well-known New England painter—encouraged her to switch to a fine-art school. She spent the following three years at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. “I didn’t do the degree program,” says Jenkins, “because I didn’t think I’d need it—and I haven’t. To begin with, I focused on printmaking, and then I became a painting major.”
By 1969 Boston was experiencing riots and protests, and the school had been taken over by “radical students pumping out posters for the cause,” Jenkins says. Not interested in protesting or politics, she headed west and landed in Boulder, CO, which was “all peace, love, and gurus—a welcome change for me at the time.” She fell in love with the raw landscape of the Rocky Mountain states and, in 1971, she settled in the historic mountain community of Ward, CO, at an elevation of 9,000 feet, where “many empty houses had been taken over by young people willing to live with woodstoves, outhouses, and no running water.” She’s been there for more than 40 years now. This year she is excited about setting up a new studio in a little house next door to her own that she and her husband recently purchased and are renovating. “Right now it’s an empty shell with lots of work to be done, but it will be my first studio [that] I get to set up exactly as I like.”
During the years when Jenkins was raising her daughter, Greta—also an artist—her creative pursuits did not lie dormant. She worked in pastels, was represented by a couple of galleries, took part in a few shows, and won awards. She also did a lot of sewing and embroidery and sold various handmade items in craft fairs, including custom-embroidered shirts, on which she literally “painted with thread.” Nothing escaped her artistic eye, including the construction of handcrafted stone walls, which she still builds in her own yards.
Once Greta was older, Jenkins decided she wanted to hone her oil-painting skills. Pastels were fine, but they didn’t lend themselves to the level of mixing and layering or the visible movement of brush strokes she wanted to master. So she immersed herself in workshops and classes given by some of the best American painters, including Kang Cho, George Strickland, Kim English, Matt Smith, Teresa Vito, and Gregg Kreutz, and in 2007 she took a yearlong class with Kevin Weckbach. She fell in love with working alla prima and focused on plein-air painting. Talking about these experiences, Jenkins flashes a bright smile, saying, “I’ve had so many great teachers, and I took what I needed from each and every one of them. All of my teachers were so generous and encouraging, and I’ve been a sponge for their knowledge!”
Jenkins’ optimistic enthusiasm infuses her work with a style that is boldly spontaneous and fresh. Mary Williams, owner of Mary Williams Fine Art in Boulder, CO, has represented the artist for more than a decade, and she puts it this way: “It’s such a pleasure to work with Carol. Her art is so honest. Each piece has a strong sense of place—you feel like you are there, standing in the artist’s shoes, seeing the scene or subject matter for yourself. There is a genuineness about her paintings that reflects her own straightforward persona.”
Among the many subjects Jenkins paints, Williams’ all-time favorites are such scenes as the artist’s own kitchen sink or her daughter’s old tea kettle. They are realistically portrayed in their homeliness, yet Jenkins’ deft handling of color and value and her eye for reflections lend them a sophistication that belies their simplicity. These qualities are notable in all of Jenkins’ paintings and are among the keys to her growing success. She has the ability to capture an innate intimacy in her subject matter, to evoke in viewers a sense of recognition.
Jenkins’ passion for art was fueled quite naturally. Displayed throughout her childhood home in Massachusetts were many inspiring paintings of the White Mountain region created by her great-grandmother, and her talented grandmother hooked rugs and did tole painting on trays and furniture. The New England region and its artists played an important role in her development, as well. “I was, and still am, influenced by the great painters from Cape Ann, including those from the Rocky Neck Art Colony and those who painted and taught in East Gloucester,” she says. “I’m really drawn to the ocean and spend time every year in Maine and love many of the painters from New England. Among my earliest influences were Edward Hopper and the Wyeths.”
Closer to home in Colorado and elsewhere in the West, Jenkins loves to be outdoors painting and frequently participates in plein-air events across the region. Talking about a recent Quick Draw event in the Tetons that yielded her painting FIELD OF SAGE, the artist reveals how inspiration hits her: “I get very excited when I see a scene like this. We were all gathered at the historic Menor’s Ferry general store. There were wonderful colors reflected in the shadows of the porch, in the weathered wood, and the surrounding foliage. I couldn’t wait to get started! I nestled myself in the field of sage and dove in, laying in values and hues with my brush and then going to town with my palette knife and scraper to vary the textures. When I’m in that zone, all else fades away—energy seems to just flow through me to the canvas.”
Winning the Artists’ Choice Award for Best body of work was a high point in Jenkins’ career this past summer at the 2013 Plein Air for the Park event in Jackson, WY. Other artists know what it takes to produce fine work, and their acknowledgment is especially rewarding. Following the exhibition, one of Jenkins’ paintings was purchased for permanent display in the Jackson Hole Airport.
Paula Conley, owner of Arts at Denver, which represents Jenkins’ work, feels the artist’s appeal arises from the definite point of view she brings to her work. “Whether a western landscape, an intimate garden scene with a simple metal chair, or her own kitchen sink, Carol imparts a quiet importance to everyday objects and places. She has an impeccable sense of composition and she uses color and texture thoughtfully to hold your attention. Perhaps most importantly, Carol’s works impart an immense sense of peace and joy in the everyday.”
Arts at Denver, Denver, CO; Bishop Gallery for Art and Antiques, Scottsdale, AZ, and Allenspark, CO; Mary Williams Fine Art, Boulder, CO; Susan Powell Fine Art, Madison, CT; Elements 5280 Gallery, Greenwood Village, CO; caroljenkinsoils.com.
Featured in the October 2013 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
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