Sudduth was raised on a farm at Caines Ridge, near Fayette, Alabama. He began making art as a child, surrounding the porch of his parents’ house with hand-carved wooden dolls and drawing in the dirt or on tree trunks outside. As his talents became known in the community he began collecting pigments from clay, earth, rocks and plants for use in his finger paintings. He used his fingers because “they never wore out.” His numerous works were typically executed on found surfaces such as plywood, doors and boards from demolished buildings. He experimented with mixing his pigments with various binders to make them adhere better, including sugar, soft drinks, instant coffee and caulk.
Sudduth was one of the early masters of southern self-taught art. Although the field is often conflated with “outsider art,” Sudduth demonstrates the limitations of the latter term. He was an active member of his community, and his work, though idiosyncratic, is firmly grounded in the African American culture of the rural South. Nor does it display the flights of imagination seen in true visionary art. He drew his subject matter from the world around him: people he knew (and celebrities), architecture, farm scenes, machinery, flowers, and animals of e woods and barnyard. Very rarely, he portrayed a religious figure such as Christ, Moses, or John the Baptist.1
1 Susan Mitchell Crawley, The Life and Art of Jimmy Lee Sudduth (Montgomery, Alabama: River City Publishing, 2005), 17-27.