Meet Greg Jenkins Who Is Making Waves in the Art World
Kanye is a fan.
Written byHadley Hall Meares
Photographed byMonica Orozco
Growing up in Washington, D.C., Greg Jenkins was always an overachiever. He was an elite ice hockey player and as an elementary school student sang in the National Cathedral Choir. After graduating from the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, he attended Tufts University. Later he became a professional hockey player in France.
Now at 28, he is making a name for himself as a talented, self-taught artist who counts Kanye West among those who have purchased his paintings. Greg’s work grapples with issues of distance, excess and obsession through large-scale painted works and collage videos.
Living with mental illness, he is also the founder of The New Arts Foundation, a nonprofit based in Burbank, which raises funds and awareness for mental health initiatives.
From the exterior, Greg’s nondescript home in West Hollywood (where he recently moved from North Hollywood), seems like any other 20-something guy’s apartment. But step inside and it is exceptional. Vibrant, large-scale canvases cover the living room, which doubles as his studio. With his towering good looks, dressed in a colorful jacket and jeans, Greg is shy and boyish, with a sharp intellect and vision.
“I was in the National Cathedral Choir, when I was 11,” the artist says. “And that was when 9/11 happened, and so we sang in the National Cathedral for that … service after 9/11, with thousands of people—presidents and stuff. That was one of my first run-ins with how art can affect people.”
However, Greg chose to stay on the elite athlete track. While playing professional hockey near Paris, he found himself drawn to the museums and art galleries that make the city so magical. “My family loves museums, so they were always dragging me to museums, and as a little kid, I never wanted to be there,” he says. “But in Paris I had time, which I had never had in school usually. I finally had time to go exploring myself.”
But it was not until his sports career had ended that Greg truly discovered his passion for artistic expression. “I studied international relations in London after that for a year. I had so much time on my hands,” he says. “I found myself very stressed. And I found I was having mental health issues myself. So I found art, not only as a way to decompress, but also as a way to figure out what’s happening with myself.”
Greg realized that since he was a child, he had been using hockey as a way to channel and ease his mental health issues. But once he was no longer on a team, he had to find a new way to cope with his emotions. “I actually went to a hardware store and they had these huge rolls of paper that I think you put down when you’re painting or something. So I bought those. Rolled them out and painted on that.”
After completing his studies at the London School of Economics and receiving a master’s degree, he moved to LA to work at the talent agency ICM. He also bought his first canvases. Stressed by the long hours and intense atmosphere at the agency, he would come home and paint. He cites as his influences Cy Twombly, Wassily Kandinsky and the filmmaker Harmony Korine.
However, Greg kept his budding passion private. It wasn’t until friends visiting his apartment saw his work that he began to realize he had real talent. In May 2018, he launched his first solo show in downtown LA. “That was a huge success,” he says, eyes sparkling. “People had a great response to that.” He quit his job a month later and pursued art full-time.
For someone without any formal training, his raw, unrefined work is remarkably varied, with elements of abstract expressionism, futurism and pop art aesthetics. “Someone recently told me one of my paintings was like being inside of a mind,” he says. “They said something about chaos and serenity. I really like those words, ‘chaos’ and ‘serenity.’”
He has long felt a kinship with other self-taught artists. Known within the industry as “outsider artists,” these creators often face mental health struggles—and in some cases ostracism—and have channeled their challenges through art. In early 2019, Greg started The New Arts Foundation to celebrate outsider art while raising funds for mental health programs.
“I have a goal sheet … because I’m an athlete, and I’ve done it since I was 7. And since I was in high school, I’ve thought ‘represent an idea that you believe in.’”
“I created New Arts to encourage people to express themselves in a way that feels good to them—to embrace their “outsider,’” he explains. “And to host events and build community around that expression. It’s a way of being open with yourself. You start to discover some cool things about people when they’re free to go beneath the surface, to maybe where they’re uncomfortable. And I think it bridges itself naturally to conversations about mental health, or really anything. It’s easier to figure out who you are when you’re being you.”
This past summer, New Arts hosted Greg’s solo show “rememberforget,” in Koreatown, with a portion of proceeds donated to the National Alliance on Mental Illness Urban Los Angeles. “LA has a creative openness about it that I love. I think that comes from the city being the center of entertainment,” he says. “There’s always a need for more and better entertainment, so taking creative risks—subversion … experimentation—is sort of encouraged. I think that’s why New Arts fits so well here. We provide a platform for outsider artists to be seen and taken seriously, and they will be.”
One of the people taking Greg’s mission seriously is Kanye West, who has been open about his own struggles with mental illness and who Greg initially met at an art fair. “We talked a lot about the roots of creativity,” Greg says. “I think my art affects people in different ways, so I can’t tell you how it spoke to him. As with any collector, I’m grateful he had an appreciation for it.”
Always the overachiever, Greg hopes to grow New Arts into an organization that brings outsider art to the masses, while encouraging and funding therapeutic artistic expression.
“I have a goal sheet … because I’m an athlete, and I’ve done it since I was 7. And since I was in high school, I’ve thought ‘represent an idea that you believe in,’” he says. “I think a lot of people, especially me before I started painting, think that art is like this magic, mystical thing. Doing events like this, I want to encourage people to know it’s not magical. You just work at it and you do it. It’s like practice.”