Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Howard Finster, I miss you

Howard Finster's greatest work was his amazing Paradise Garden. He spent 20 years building this environment. In 1976, he had a vision to paint sacred art. One day I was workin' on a patch job on a bicycle, and I was rubbin' some white paint on that patch with this finger here, and I looked at the round tip o' my finger, and there was a human face on it... then a warm feelin' come over my body, and a voice spoke to me and said, 'Paint sacred art.'

His images range from pop culture icons like Elvis Presley to historical figures like George Washington to religious images like The Devils Vice and "John the Baptist" to his own visions. His paintings are colorful and detailed; they use flat picture plane without perspective and are often covered with words, especially Bible verses. Every painting also has a number; God had asked him to do 5,000 paintings to spread the gospel and he wanted to keep track.
He finished the 5,000 a few days before Christmas in 1985, but continued painting and numbering until the day he died. By 1989, he was already numbering in the ten thousands.

This piece is like the Finster I owned. Mine was of Hank Williams jr. This one is of Hank Williams.
I went to college in Rome, ga. Paradise Gardens was just an hour or so drive away in summerville, ga. A few times a friend and I drove up and visited Howard. He sat in the main room of the gallery and chatted with us and played his banjo. What a great experience it was to meet him.

Howard on Johnny Carson

Talking Heads commissioned a Finster painting for Little Creatures in 1985 that was subsequently selected as album cover of the year by Rolling Stone magazine.

Finster gained national fame after his collaborative work with Athens, Georgia-based rock band R.E.M.. The group filmed the video for the group's debut single "Radio Free Europe" in Finster's Paradise Gardens in 1983. The following year, the band's singer Michael Stipe and Finster collaborated on a painting for the cover of their second album Reckoning. After that the band made the song "Maps and Legends" (in its third album Fables of the Reconstruction) as an homage to Finster. Along with R.E.M. Finster (and his art) also appear in the band's video for "Shiny Happy People" as the man riding the bike that propels the moving background of artwork!
Last night I was on CPR radio, and one of the questions dealt with art and music and how the two can come together. What a perfect example, and how fun to see Finster in this video, all happy.
Howard Finster was responsible for introducing millions to outsider art, but even with his fame, he remained focused on religious outreach. He said of the Talking Heads album, "I think there's twenty-six religious verses on that first cover I done for them. They sold a million records in the first two and a half months after it come out, so that's twenty-six million verses I got out into the world in two and a half months!

No comments: