Born Adolf Junkers in Latvia, Adja Yunkers’ journey to becoming an artist began when he left home at 14 to study art in Saint Petersburg. In 1919, after serving in the Russian military for two years, he moved to Germany and had his first show at the Maria Kunde Galerie in Hamburg in 1921. While in Germany he became familiar with artists in the Sturmgruppe and he also participated in a Russian avant-garde exhibition alongside Wassily Kandinsky, Alexander Archipenko, and Marc Chagall.
Yunkers began a series of travels in 1923, from Spain to the Canary Islands to Paris and finally to Cuba in 1926 (where he changed his name from Adolf Junkers to Adja Yunkers). He returned to Europe by the end of 1927 and remained active in both artistic and political movements, even moving to Spain in 1936 to fight in their civil war. He immigrated to Sweden in 1939 and remained there for many years, becoming associated with Swedish Surrealists and publishing three journals about art and politics. These handcrafted publications led Yunkers to develop a deeper interest in printmaking and, in the 1940s, he made many woodblock prints that exhibited the influence of German Expressionism on his work.
In 1947, Yunkers moved to New York to teach at the New School for Social Research. Several years later, in 1952, he married a former student, Dore Ashton, who became an art critic for The New York Times. It was through Ashton that Yunkers was introduced to Abstract Expressionist artists. This association had an enormous effect on the development of his later paintings and collages, which became more minimal and monochromatic with an emphasis on negative space. Printmaking and bookmaking would also remain important to him throughout his career; in 1949, he founded the Rio Grande Workshop in New Mexico and, beginning in 1969, he illustrated several limited-edition books by the poet Octavio Paz.
Yunkers exhibited widely throughout the United States and Europe, and his works can be found in numerous important public institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum, New York, the British Museum, London, and the Jewish Museum, New York.