At a young age Kenney had read Salvador Dalí's autobiography and the works of poet André Breton, and had become fascinated with surrealism. The influence is plain in his dark, figurative works of the 1940s and '50s. Taking Breton's proclamation that "only the marvelous is beautiful" to heart, he painted "automatically", without conscious planning. Except for a few portraits done for friends, he never tried to reproduce reality in his paintings, always searching instead for deeper meaning.
"He never saw the world as others see it," said a longtime friend and patron, Merch Pease. "His work is highly personal. It's pure invention."
After briefly returning to Douglas Aircraft, he stumbled onto a job, in 1952, as a display artist at Gump's, a major seller of Asian art in San Francisco. He spent the next six years there, becoming the company's director of display, then moved to a different art dealership, W. & J. Sloane. He painted only sporadically during this time, but learned a great deal about Asian art. His fascination with an Eastern symbol, the mandala, led to a shift in his work away from the figure and into a pure abstraction of glowing colors and simple, geometric forms, detailed with obsessive intricacy. In 1960 he quit his job in order to refocus on painting....Figures and representational images disappeared. In their place appeared a long series of paintings that were variations on an inner circle radiating misty echoes like the reverberations of a gong. They are elemental forms, drenched with archetypal resonance; symbols of source as well as pure studies of light and form...Despite his success, Kenney was growing tired of the symmetric shapes of his most popular work, and began loosening up his composition and breaking his shapes into pieces. As he explored these new directions he became increasingly uncomfortable with the pressure to churn out new paintings. His meticulous attention to detail had always necessitated a slow working pace, and now, in his late forties, burdened by ill health and a drinking problem, he simply couldn't produce enough work to keep up with demand. By the late 1970s his celebrity began to recede. He painted sporadically and sold work out of his studio to help pay his expenses, but was never able to complete enough paintings for another gallery exhibition.Wikipedia