“A new folk art winner—the real deal,” noted observers say.

The word “blacktop” is part of the region’s parlance, Southernese for those dark two-lane paved roads that meander through the mountains, valleys and coastal plains where most of us during our youth had our first experience at breaking the hundred mile an hour barrier with dad’s sedan. Blacktop, the man, is a truly talented folk artist who is riding the ascendant of a career that will, many predict, catapult him to fame and fortune.

Ken Gentle is on Blacktop’s Alabama birth certificate but few beyond his family call him anything other than his well-earned nom du plume now that he is painting prolifically and attracting attention all the while. Originally from Huntsville, Blacktop was introduced to art by a relative who did illustrations for NASA, but his real inspiration was from a fellow traveler, Montgomery, Alabama folk art legend Mose Tolliver. “From my first view of Tolliver’s paintings,” Blacktop said in a recent interview, “I saw things within me that were kin to these images. Some may think Mose Tolliver paints very simply, but if your soul and heart are touched as mine was, something complex is there that can only be truly shared through imagery.”

The masters of folk art share common spiritual ground and Blacktop’s native and adoptive states of Alabama and Georgia, respectively, are deeply steeped in the self-taught art traditon. Names like Myrtice West and Jim Lee Suddeth of Alabama and Georgia’s Howard Finster and Mattie Lou O’Kelley represent folk traditions in the finest form of originality and creativity. Blacktop is their kindred spirit and knows the basis of his artistic motivation. He is already a force in the folk art market and is really going to get hotter.

Each of Blacktop’s paintings begins with plywood that has black tar applied. After being coated with enamel, the actual painting is ready for Blacktop’s brush. The medium is acrylic and the results are startling. “The tar never completely dries, “ Blacktop explains. “The surface will change and shift causing movement of the painted images. There’s going to be a kind of life and the inevitable change that life promises embedded in each painting.” That, collectors maintain, is undisputed originality, something that is increasingly difficult to find in the homogenized festivals and craft shows posing as legitimate arts events.

Blacktop is accessible by telephone (706.235.5655) and by email (, and he is personable, open and charming. Talking with him about his art creations and what drives him is as much fun as chatting with an old friend. Getting to know any artist prior to investing in their works adds to the overall enjoyment of display on that favorite wall. The pieces I own by Rev. Howard Finster, Olivia Thomason, Bettye Williams and Missionary Mary Proctor and many others make each day colorful and the evenings warm and comfortable because, apart from the majesty of their painted visions, I spent time with them and they told me things about themselves. Blacktop offers that kind of special intimacy that adds to the meaning of his valuable works.

Price, of course is a relevant consideration and Blacktop falls within the very reasonable category. I have seen faux art, mass-produced frauds at shows selling to unsuspecting buyers priced higher than Blacktop’s one-of-a-kind creations. His, of course, have worth, and will appreciate in value over the months and years. These considerations attract serious collectors as well as those who are just getting their feet wet.

Without hesitation, I recommend Blacktop as a quality person and self-taught artist to those who want to own paintings that are genuinely from the visions of a remarkably talented gentleman.



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