Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Art Blogging By Request: Howard Finster

Theresa Coleman requested that I artblog about Howard Finster (1916-2001), an American creator of Outsider Art. Outsider Art is that which is composed by people traditionally not seen as artists, or otherwise untrained or unaffiliated with the fine arts. Finster, a native of Georgia, was a Baptist preacher who created 46,000 works of art, mostly reflective of Christian themes. He began exhibiting publicly after 1975. In the 1980s, he received numerous commissions to create album covers, including those of R.E.M. and the Talking Heads. Most of Finster's works are on display at Paradise Gardens, a chapel complex that he built near Summerville, Georgia.

Empty Road (1988, Columbus Museum of Art; silkscreen). Finster rarely left an inch of open space in his compositions, such as this print filled with evangelistic messages comparing the roads to Heaven and Hell.

Coca Cola and Big Coke at the Anton Haart Gallery. Finster was particularly fond of Coca Cola and developed much of his art around a Coke theme, such as these five-foot tall wooden cutouts. He was eventually commissioned by the Coca Cola company to create works directly for the firm.

So, Theresa: tell us what Howard Finster's art means to you.


Tom Jackson said...

Finster should have teamed up with Dr. Bronner. Imagine the soap labels they could have come up with...

the reverend mommy said...

First, I would say that Finster's works encompass something of the South of my childhood. The Baptist faith that for 45 years Finster proclaimed is so ingrained into the Southern psyche as to be indelible. This is the gospel as I heard it preached from worn and Bible-battered pulpits. I take a comfort from that.

Second, he reclaims and recycles things and objects that others would throw away – a sort of redemption.

Third, Finster painted as a direct call from God. Like Isaiah, he heard God give him an order – to paint sacred art – even though he had no training to do so. And he painted for 25 more years and by his paintings was able to reach a much larger audience than to whon he could have ever preached. Each of his paintings is a sermon – the words are embossed in black felt tip, interspersed with scripture that he wrote directly from memory.

Last, there is a quality in the paintings that I can only call “iconic” in the traditional sense. They each are Icons, as the Icons of Eastern Orthodoxy; each point to a reality beyond itself in ways that other paintings cannot. The Spirit was with him as he painted.

I own only one painting – of the Last Supper (of course!) I cherish it and am drawn into each every time I really look at it. It’s compelling as some of the other Last Supper paintings I own are not.

And I like the joyous nature of the way he uses color – OK, I just like them!

Thanks for asking, John!