Charles Kinney


was a prolific, self-taught artist, best known for his paintings. Though it was not until between 1970 and 1991 that he received widespread public attention throughexhibitions of his work, Kinney had been involved in some form of creative activity since his childhood. Born in northeast Kentucky with a birth defect
he learned ways to innovate early on to compensate for a lack of upper-body strength. He worked as a farmer, cut hair, and baked pies for sale at home,and also made oak-splint baskets. He learned to play the fiddle in a local style and played music all his life with his younger brother, Noah, a guitarist. He was a passionate storyteller and eagerly shared his knowledge of the natural world, local lore, and folk legends.As a young man, Kinney shaped animal forms from clay, dried them on his woodstove, and painted them. He sold many of these to the Kentucky state parks, butfew survive. He also made clay busts of Moses, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln. His paintings present unforgiving scenes of hell, local legends, the old wayof life in Kentucky, landscapes, and events of local importance, all portrayed in bold, colorful brushstrokes of tempera, often applied over a preliminary pencil sketch.Many of the paintings have an outer border of black stove polish. Although Kinney attended school for about three years, the phonetic spellings of his writing on manyof his paintings require some interpretation. Sometimes he wrote the title of a painting as
an inscription as “Corn redy shuk,” for “the cornis ready to shuck” (when depicting a cornfield); or wrote both, as in “hen hok gat snak,” for “the hen (chicken) hawk has got the snake,” on a painting he titled
“Hean Hok Gat Radler,”
Hen Hawk Got a Rattler
.With bold brushstrokes sparingly applied, Kinney produced stark images of a disappearing, self-reliant, agrarian world, depicting the practices, lore, and legends thathad sustained it. In a larger sense, his paintings portray the vanishing cultural perspectives of a generation raised, according to longstanding tradition, in a way of life nolonger viable in a world permanently transformed by the explosive events of a turbulent century. Kinney’s paintings also portray and document his appreciation for natural as well as supernatural forces, hinting at a body of knowledge gained only through intimate association with nature, now alsovirtually extinct. Through his art, craft, and music making, in the tradition of storytelling about which he was passionate, Kinney unapologetically attempted, right up untilhis death, to transmit and propagate the culture that was his birthright.
Swain, Adrian.
Pictured in My Mind.
Birmingham, Ala., 1995.Yelen, Alice Rae.
Passionate Visions of the American South.
New Orleans, La., 1993