Artist Profile – Howard Finster
1916–2001, lived and worked in Summerville, Georgia
Reverend Howard Finster was a self-styled prophet who created (with the aid of relatives) more than 46,000 numbered artworks. In the early 1960s, after preaching for forty years, Finster believed that he was called upon by God to transform the land around his Summerville, Georgia, home into the Paradise Gardens, a found-object shrine to the Lord and human industry and invention, which eventually included the functioning World’s Folk Art Church, Inc. A second vision in 1976, in which God appeared in a paint smudge on his finger, led to his proselytizing painting practice, which occupied much of his subsequent artistic career. Finster’s vivid and obsessive “sermon art,” in which he depicted Elvis, the Ford family, Coca-Cola, and UFOs in addition to Biblical and historical subjects, rapidly attracted a media frenzy and extensive exhibition. He became internationally known in the 1980s, when he was featured in Life magazine and commissioned to design album covers for the rock bands Talking Heads and REM.
For Finster, art was a tool of spiritual salvation; a means to spread his personal interpretation of the Gospel. He did not focus on the aesthetic qualities of his work so much as the message they conveyed. Finster would frequently forego sleep in order to accomplish his divinely sanctioned production quota, and the feverish pace of his intuitive, inspired translations of the Gospel is evident. The work reflects his emphasis on its communicative purpose, as dense text and Biblical quotations are interwoven with fields of colorful scenes depicting both deliverance and damnation.