Carlos Cortez Coyle


was a self-taught painter who was prolific but little known during his own lifetime. His paintings are mysterious and ambitious in size, with many exceeding six feet inheight. His most adventurous paintings present unrelated images that combine to form a complex narrative storyline that operates on several different levels.Born in Dreyfus, Kentucky, Coyle’s extensive and articulate diary writing confirms a formal education, which he received at the nearby Berea Foundation School.Although his diary chronicles his feelings, describes a personal sense of loss, and explores issues and topics such as tyranny, motherhood, alcohol, science, andastronomy, most details of his adult life remain a mystery. He married three times and had three children. He left Kentucky and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area,where between 1929 and 1942 he completed 169 paintings, many of them large in size.Coyle’s technique, especially when representing the human figure, was well developed. His skillful control of oil paints enabled him to depict a wide range of subjectmatter, including landscapes, scenes from his childhood in rural Kentucky, and allegorical compositions, at times featuring female nudes. His treatment was alternatelyrealistic and surrealistic, often with several images graphically layered. In one of his paintings,
And Departing, Leave Footprints in the Sand,
for instance, he portraysan Egyptian landscape, with sphinx and pyramids, along with Stonehenge superimposed on one side of the canvas and the Washington Monument on the other. Twogiant pairs of bare legs, which fade out below the knee, stride to left and right against the desert backdrop. Many of his paintings similarly include such multiple images.Though Coyle’s writings touch on a sense of overwhelming sadness in life, his paintings transcend the personal to focus on broader issues.Berea College in Kentucky received four crates containing Coyle’s paintings, drawings, his diary, and notes in 1942. Legend has it that these arrived, unannounced,on the doorstep of the college president, who is said to have opened one crate, declared his shock, and ordered it resealed. In a letter, received soon after the cratesarrived, Coyle stated: “I am resolved to give my art to the land of my birth where I played and spent most of my youth.” The paintings remained in storage until BereaCollege professor Thomas Fern discovered the crates, in 1960. Fern recognized their significance, located the artist, and formally thanked him. Coyle, who by then wasliving in Leesburg, Florida, died in 1962 at age ninety.
See also
Outsider Art; Painting, American Folk;

Painting, Landscape
Marcus, Brad. Unpublished paper on Carlos Cortez Coyle, “A Higher Need of Expression.” Special Collections, Hutchins Library, Berea College, Berea, Kentucky, and Kentucky Folk Art Center, Morehead, Ky., 1993