Jacques Frenken was born on 10 March 1929 in Den Bosch. He grew up in an intellectual and artistic environment. Of his five younger brothers, three also became visual artists and the other two became an architect and a professor. Jacques Frenken studied at the Tekenschool (drawing school) in Tilburg where he earned a teaching degree. From 1952 to 1957 he studied at the prestigious National Academy in Amsterdam.
In 1957 Frenken moved back to Den Bosch, where he obtained a studio and residence. He was busy with both free painting and monumental commission work, such as the design of stained-glass windows and wall reliefs. He designed huge walls of stained glass for various churches. The Norbertuskerk in Horst has not been used as a church since 2012, but the building was left standing because of the monumental windows designed by Frenken in 1962.
In the period 1956–1965, he made abstract paintings with a unique signature. The most famous are the ‘script paintings’, with large letter-like figures, his ‘scratch paintings’, with geometric figures scratched into dark paint and his reliefs. As a young artist he received the Royal Subsidy for Free Painting (1956), the Thérèse van Duyl-Schwartze Prize (1957), the Prix de Rome (1957) for painting and the Cultural Prize of the province of North Brabant (1962).
In 1965 he began to saw through and reassemble discarded statues of saints to create Pop-Art-like statues and became known throughout the Netherlands. The VPRO broadcasting network made a documentary film about Frenken and his work in 1967. The work was exhibited and purchased by various museums in the Netherlands. In 2017 there was a retrospective of the work from this period in the Noordbrabants Museum.
From 1968 to 1988, Frenken taught at the Art Academy of Den Bosch, as the head professor of free painting.
At the beginning of the seventies, he made spatial work, especially life-size still lifes of cabinets and objects, wrapped in linen and painted in light colours.
From 1973 to 1979 he worked on a large series of muted works, paintings in a sober minimalist style, with repeating lines or squares. In March 1979, around his 50th birthday, he had a large exhibition at Het Kruithuis in Den Bosch.
From 1980 to 1984 he made large spatial works from painted paper. The Museum de Commanderie van de Sint-Jan in Nijmegen, the current Museum Valkhof, exhibited this work in 1985.
From 1982 to about 1985, he worked extensively with oil crayon on thick paper. In 1983 his son Gilles (1961) made a documentary film portrait.
From 1983 until 1997, Jacques Frenken once again enjoyed a very productive period and painted small and large works, sometimes longer than 8 metres, with the names of famous classical composers and their compositions.
In 1997 he began to paint religious themes – first church interiors, then exteriors, then ’20 glimpses of the child Jesus’, followed by 20 compositions of Olivier Messiaen and then a whole series of ‘Stupas’ (Eastern temples).
In 1998 he had a very extensive retrospective exhibition at the Schloss Moyland Museum in Germany, 50 km east of Arnhem.
From 2000 to 2010, Jacques Frenken mainly worked on paintings of stacked geometric shapes. He also updated existing letter paintings from the fifties and worked on a series of landscape drawings, mostly two-metre-long panoramas.
Since 2010 Jacques Frenken has occasionally worked on paintings of organs and churches, in the style in which he painted in the period 1989–1994. Frenken hopes to reach the age of 90 in 2019. The strength of his works is that they originate from a deep experience of music, of religion and of visual art. Most of the work that he has painted is unique, and looks nothing like that of anyone else. In his very different style periods, he has made work that still looks fresh, current and original, but at the same time reflects the time in which it was made. In 2019, Frenken’s work will be exhibited in various places and a documentary film about his life will be released.