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American, 20th century.
Born 1916, Valley Head, Alabama; died 2001, Summerville, Georgia.

Reverend Howard Finster was an artist, poet, musician, sculptor, and preacher who created over 46,000 individually numbered works of art during his lifetime. Born in 1916, in Valley Head, Alabama, Finster was one of thirteen children and was raised in the Baptist church, the cultural environment that would inspire his life and work. 

Finster remembered being called to preach in 1931 when he was only 15 years old and remained a preacher until his death. In 1937, Finster moved to Chattooga County with his young wife Pauline and their first child. He worked in various cotton mills, and pastored at churches and revivals to make a living. In 1961, the Finsters moved to Pennville, Georgia where Howard worked as a bicycle and small engine repairman. In the early 1960s, Finster also began working on the Plant Farm Museum, an environment constructed behind his home that was intended to contain “every man-made item” and was composed of buildings, concrete sculptures, waterways, biblical signs, paintings, towers constructed from bicycle frames, and even an “unknown body.”  In 1975, Esquire magazine referred to Finster’s environment as Paradise Garden, and the artist willingly adopted the name.

In 1976, Finster reported having a vision to “paint sacred art” when a dab on paint on his thumb spoke to him. Finster responded to the call, working day and night in every medium available to him, with one goal: to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. To reach a maximum audience, he incorporated iconic figures from American history like Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Henry Ford, and George Washington, to name a few, into his paintings, sculpture, and famous “cut-outs.” Finster’s most compelling works are inventive and poetic biblical lessons that incorporate humor and gravity in equal measure. 

Finster’s work entered into the realm of popular culture in the 1980s when he designed album covers for the bands R.E.M. and the Talking Heads. He even appeared on Johnny Carson’s “The Tonight Show” and his work was included in the 41st Venice Biennale in 1984. Through his prolific production and high profile collaborations, Finster’s work reached millions of people, but his singular goal of “spreading the gospel” remained unchanged. When asked about the Talking Heads album, Finster said, "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!"

- Jenifer P. Borum


Selected Exhibitions
2019, Man Up! Man Down!: Images of Masculinity from the Harnett Print Study Center Collection, Joel and Lila Harnett Museum of Art, University of Richmond Museums
2019, Way Out There: The Art of Southern Backroads, High Museum of Art
2018, Outliers and American Vanguard Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
2016, Man of Visions: The Inspired Works of the Reverend Howard Finster, Albany Museum of Art, Albany
2014, Howard Finster: Paradise Garden, High Museum of Art, Atlanta
2013, Great and Mighty Things: Outsider Art from the Sheldon and Jill Bonovitz Collection, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia
2010, Stranger in Paradise: The Works of Reverend Howard Finster, curated by Glen Davies, Krannert Art Museum, Champaign, IL
2010, The Museum of Everything, Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli, Turin
1992, Parallel Visions: Modern Artists and Outsider Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles
1984, Paradise Lost/Paradise Regained: American Visions of the New Decade, American Pavilion at Venice Biennale, Venice

Selected Collections
Albany Museum of Art, Albany
American Folk Art Museum, New York
High Museum of Art, Atlanta
New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans
Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Selected Bibliography
Davies, Glen C., Stranger in Paradise: The Works of Reverend Howard Finster, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 2010.
The Museum of Everything, exhibition catalogue, Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli & Electa, Turin/Milan, 2010.
Bradshaw, Thelma Finster, Howard Finster: The Early Years, Crane Hill Publishers, Birmingham, 2001.
Peacock, Robert, Paradise Garden, Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 1996.
Tuchman, Maurice and Carol S. Eliel, eds., Parallel Visions: Modern Artists and Outsider Art, exhibition catalogue, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, 1992.
Finster, Howard et Tom Patterson, Howard Finster, Stranger from Another World: Man of Visions Now on This Earth, Abbeville Press, New York, June 1989.
Turner, John F., Howard Finster: Man of Visions, Knopf, New York, 1989.

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