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HOWARD FINSTER (1916-2001): REVEALING THE MASTERWORKS and THE FINSTER COSMOLOGY: HOWARD’S BRAIN
September 29, 2004 - December 19, 2004
Curated by Norman Girardot, Diane LaBelle, and Ricardo Viera
Opening and gallery talk: 6-8 PM, Friday, October 1, 2004
Growing up on a poor “hog, corn, and pea-patch” farm in northern Alabama, Howard Finster was the youngest of thirteen children. An inveterate tinkerer and homespun poet who finished only the sixth grade of schooling, Howard Finster tells us he experienced curious “visions” and dreams of flying from the age of three. Most of all, his formative teenage years were dominated by his evangelical conversion, or “born again” experience.
He subsequently became an itinerant Baptist preacher in various small towns in northern Alabama and Georgia, an area that combines aspects of American “deep southern” culture with “hillbilly” or Appalachian tradition. Leaving formal pastoring in the 1960s to take up the maverick existence of a rustic entrepreneur and jack of all trades, the turning point in his life came in 1976 in Pennville, Georgia when at the age of 60 he had his mythically significant “finger-face-of-God” vision commanding him to paint “sacred art.” Identifying himself as “God’s Last Red Light” and as an artistic “Stranger From Another World,” he started compulsively and often sleeplessly to paint what he thought of as urgent apocalyptic “messages from God.”
During the late 1970s and through most of the 1980s, he experienced increasingly frequent, vivid, and compelling visions that were displayed in his myriad and progressively more complex artworks, books, assemblages, and environmental constructions (Paradise Garden). By the late 1980s, Finster was discovered by several mainstream cultural agencies (e.g., Johnny Carson, The Wall Street Journal, the Smithsonian Institution, the Philadelphia Art Alliance, the Museum of American Folk Art, and various colleges and universities like the University of Richmond and Lehigh University- as well as alternative musical groups like R.E.M. and The Talking Heads).
This extraterrestrial preacher-painter’s rough and ready visionary art and flamboyantly folksy personality in many ways came to define what was at first ambiguously called “contemporary folk art” and then, more controversially, “self-taught,””vernacular,” or “outsider” art. Throughout the late 1990s, Finster’s art was compromised by overproduction, ill health, and family intrigue. Nevertheless at the turn of the millennium, Finster was certainly the best known of self-taught visionary artists and his death brought a kind of symbolic closure to the checkered late twentieth-century history of American self-taught art.
At the very least, the time has come for some substantial aesthetic consideration of his prolific artistic production in relation to the self-taught or outsider field and the larger cultural concerns of art history and the comparative history of religions. Howard Finster (1916-2001): Revealing the Masterworks addresses this task by mounting a highly selective retrospective show of some of Finster’s most important, and aesthetically arresting, work- along with several related exhibitions, and a symposium, dealing with the artistic breadth of his output and its cultural-religious interconnections.
EXHIBITION: “Howard Finster(1916-2001): Revealing the Masterworks”: Fall 2004
PANEL DISCUSSION: “Howard Finster(1916-2001): Revealing the Masterworks”: Fall 2004
EXHIBITION: “Howard Finster(1916-2001): Howard’s Brain, The Finster Cosmology”: Fall 2004