Born in Falmouth, Cornwall in 1923, Canney took an early interest in art and studied extensively throughout the county. In the early 1940s he encountered the primitive painter Alfred Wallis and the 'St Ives School,' including Barbara Hepworth (with whom he worked in 1959), Ben Nicholson, Naum Gabo and Bernard Leach.
His work progressed through a variety of styles during his life, from traditional landscapes to abstract works, pure white reliefs and hard-edged, mathematically based constructivist pieces. For many years he combined his artistic endeavours with work as an art gallery curator, educator, writer and broadcaster. On returning from war service in Italy, he completed his art training at Goldsmiths’ College, London, where his contemporaries included Bridget Riley, Albert Irvin and Molly Parkin.
He moved back to Cornwall In 1956 to become curator of Newlyn Art Gallery and was later invited by Paul Feiler to become a lecturer at the Royal West of England College of Art in Bristol. He then decided to relocate to Italy, where his oil paintings drew on a new, more vibrant colour palette. He eventually settled in Devizes, in Wiltshire, where he continued to paint and make constructions and reliefs.