William Paul Jenkins (known as Paul Jenkins) was born in 1923 in Kansas City, Missouri, where he was raised. He met Frank Lloyd Wright who was commissioned by the artist’s great-uncle, the Rev. Burris Jenkins (whose own motto was to “live dangerously”) to rebuild his church in Kansas City, Missouri after a fire.
(Wright suggested that Jenkins should think about a career in agriculture rather than art.) The young Jenkins also visited Thomas Hart Benton and confided his intention to become a painter. The Eastern art collection of the Nelson-Atkins Museum (then, the William Rockhill Nelson Art Gallery) had an early influence on him.
In his teenage years, Jenkins moved to Struthers, Ohio to live with his mother, Nadyne Herrick, and stepfather, who both ran the local newspaper, the Hometown Journal (then the Struthers Journal).
After graduating from Struthers High School, he served in the U.S. Maritime Service and entered the U.S. Naval Air Corps during World War II. In 1948, he moved to New York City where, on the G.I. Bill, he studied at the Art Students League of New York with Yasuo Kuniyoshi for four years, and with Morris Kantor.
During that time, he met Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, and Barnett Newman. In 1953, he traveled to Europe, working for three months in Taormina in Sicily before settling in Paris, France. From 1955 on, the artist shared his time between New York and Paris.