American folk artist, banjo player, and man of visions, Reverend Howard Finster, was born on December 2, 1915 in Alabama and died in Rome, Georgia on October 22, 2001.
Finster's so-called outsider art is instantly recognizable. Though he also created sculpture, he is best known for his folksy, naive paintings covered in evangelical scripture verses. He eventually quit preaching and his "sermons in paint" became his way of bringing the gospel to the masses. Despite the fact he disliked rock and roll, he painted an album cover for R.E.M. and the Talking Heads because he "had twenty-six million verses go out and reach the world. That's more than I ever reached in the forty-five years I was pastoring. The rock-and-rollers are my missionaries."
Finster often used pop culture icons in his art because Christ "used common people to reveal parables. That's what I do. I use Elvis because I'm a fan of Elvis…By using him I get people's attention and they read my messages." Finster's art, before his death, often sold for up to $20,000 US. Finster's supporters have defended his commercial success by reminding critics that his art served God and spread the word of God.
Back in the early 1960's, Finster created Paradise Garden, a 2 1/2 acre folk art park in northwest Georgia, which is full of "dizzying, dazzling maze(s) of sculptural monuments, heavily embellished outbuildings, found-object assemblages…(and) elaborately painted signs". He opened the park as a haven for folk artists and as a public attraction for spreading his message. R.E.M. filmed their video for "Radio Free Europe" in Paradise Gardens and the annual Howard Finster Fest folk art festival is held there. Paradise Garden is now largely owned by the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia, which also holds the world's largest collection of Finster's art.
Howard Finster: Man of Visions, by J.F. Turner