Howard Finster "Man of Visions" (1916-2001) - Folk Art
Born in 1916 (or 1915, sources are conflicted), self-taught environmental and visionary artist, Howard Finster has become one of the most prominent names in American Folk Art. His story sounds like it was ripped from the pages of a traditional folktale: he was a “man of visions”, having had his first vision at age 3 when he saw his recently deceased sister walking down out of the sky wearing a white gown. He was born again at a Baptist revival at age 13, and became a preacher at 16 — a career he maintained until 1965. Later in life he had another vision: this time, God came to him in the form of a face on his index finger telling him to paint sacred art. This this vision helped him to spread the gospel by producing thousands of paintings. By 1989, Finster had created over 10,000 numbered works. Each piece was dated and numbered with including the time of completion. He described himself as “a stranger from another world”, and said that his brain was “beyond the light of the sun.”
A third life changing vision came to him by a 16 foot man who told him to start making art in his garden. From there Finster began transforming his backyard into the art space that would come to be known as “Paradise Garden” which actually came from an article in Esquire in calling his garden a Paradise. By the time of his death in 2001, Paradise Garden contained over 46,000 pieces of art, including 40,000 paintings. Much of his work focuses on religious and pop culture iconography, depicted sans-perspective on a flat picture plane. Always colorful and painstakingly detailed, Howard Finster claimed that the works were ordained by god.
After being featured in a 1975 Esquire article on self-taught artists, Finster’s star rose higher than ever before. In 1977, he created 4 paintings for the Library of Congress. By the mid-1980’s Finster had appeared on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, produced cover art for R.E.M. and the Talking Heads, and exhibited at the Venice Biennale (1984). His work is now included in hundreds of exhibitions across the country and he was given a major retrospective exhibit at the High Museum in Atlanta in 1996. A permanent installation of his work was later added to the museum. Finster’s “Paradise Garden” is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian.