Pappy Kitchens and the Saga of Red Eye the Rooster
The first publication dedicated to a remarkable Mississippi folk artist
O. W. “Pappy” Kitchens (1901–1986) was born in Crystal Springs, Mississippi, and began painting at age sixty-seven. His self-taught, narrative, visual art springs directly from the oral tradition of parable and storytelling with which he grew up. A self-declared folk artist, Kitchens claimed, “I paint about folks, what folks see and what folks do. ”
His magnum opus, The Saga of Red Eye the Rooster, was painted between 1973 and 1976 and presents a homespun Pilgrim’s Progress in the form of a beast fable. Kitchens’s most ambitious allegorical work, this fable consists of sixty panels, each one measuring fifteen inches square, composed of mixed materials on paper, and executed in three groups of twenty. Kitchens follows Red Eye from foundling to funeral, exploring the life of this extraordinary bird. Red Eye’s quasi-human behavior inevitably maneuvers him into conflicts with antagonists of all sorts. He encounters violence, avarice, lust, greed, and most of the other seven deadly sins, dispatching them in heroic fashion until he finally succumbs to his own fatal flaw.
In addition to The Saga of Red Eye the Rooster, the volume features personal photos of Kitchens as well as additional works by the artist. Written by distinguished artist and Kitchens’s once son-in-law William Dunlap, with an introduction by renowned curator Jane Livingston, Pappy Kitchens and the Saga of Red Eye the Rooster brings much-needed exposure to the life and work of a key Mississippi figure.
Pappy Kitchens taught me that a typewriter could be your paintbrush and to beware of men in White Suits, but I married one and with him came the South.- Claudia DeMonte, sculptor
I am deeply grateful that treasures such as these left by Mr. Kitchens were ‘Dunlaped’ for the rest of us.- Ed McGowin, artist (and a man in a White Suit)
Pappy Kitchens’s thought-provoking little masterpieces never disappoint. Executed with extraordinary painterly skills and a moody palette, these timeless paintings exist in their own universe with its own language—a language that is rich and powerful. The world that Pappy Kitchens lived in has long passed us by, but his brilliance and rich power as a painter keep the work as fresh and alive as anything created today. Pappy’s paintings always allow you to contemplate space and time. Plus, they always make me smile. Thank you, Mr. Kitchens.- John Alexander, artist
In this handsome and well-illustrated book, long overdue, the larger American art world can discover what many ‘insiders’ in the South already know: Pappy Kitchens is an important and unique artist, as well as a notable Mississippi storyteller.
Kitchens began to sketch and draw in 1969, two years after retiring from his work as a builder and contractor in Mississippi. He explored a diverse range of subjects, including childhood memories, landscapes, genre scenes, allegories, fables, and religious visions, reflecting his immersion in a wide range of reading and research interests.
His single most important body of work, however, is The Saga of Red Eye the Rooster. With a cast of characters including Red Eye, Uncle Bim, Henry, Spot, Polly Whiterock—and the presence of Red Eye’s nemesis, Colonel Harlan Sanders (of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame)—this southern epic offers something for readers and art lovers of all ages.- Richard Gruber, director emeritus, Ogden Museum of Southern Art