by Teresa Blackburn, Food Prop Stylist
The first time I saw the artwork of the Reverend Howard Finster in the early 1980s I was totally enchanted. I had never seen anything like it before and had never met an artist like him. A friend and I would stop by his Paradise Gardens studio near Summerville, Georgia, on our way to and from the beach. We did this for a few years and had some very funny, quirky, lovely times with him. We would usually arrive and find him alone painting, and he welcomed us and would keep right on painting and talking for as long as we stayed.
We bought a few pieces from him, some with the paint still wet, walked around his studio, discussed God, America, life, and art. He always had something very original and totally off the wall to say. All his artwork has words and phrases and imagery that reflect an intense passion, an avid interest in pop culture and the bravery to combine the two. I am still, today, absolutely enchanted with the Finster pieces hanging on my walls.
Howard Finster (1916-2001) was perhaps the best-known self-taught artist of the modern era, as well as the most famous folk artist of the twentieth century. Born in Alabama, he attended school for six years and was a Baptist minister for nearly forty years. In 1965, he began building his Paradise Gardens, transforming a swampy plot of land northwest of Atlanta, Georgia, into his fantastic version of the Garden of Eden, as he felt directed by God. The garden is filled with his art and architecture created from found objects such as bottle caps, discarded tools, rusted machine parts, and even old cars and bicycles in a brilliant collage of texture, light, and color. In 1976, he claimed, an angel appeared upon the paint on his finger and said, “Paint sacred art.” He became so inspired to get the Lord’s message out that he never stopped painting. He produced some fifty thousand works and signed, dated, numbered, and put the time it was completed on nearly all of them. Finster appeared on the Tonight Show, illustrated album covers for R.E.M. and Talking Heads, and was featured on the cover of Time magazine and Rolling Stone.