Thursday, March 22, 2012

Akron Art Museum's Reverend Howard Finster Exhibit

Akron Art Museum's Reverend Howard Finster Exhibit
by Joanna Wilson

High Street Entrance

The Akron Art Museum is currently hosting “Stranger in Paradise: The Works of Reverend Howard Finster.”  The exhibition includes sculpture, paintings and personal mementos of the Outsider artist from rural Georgia.  Many of us were first introduced to the art of Reverend Howard Finster by the 1980s album covers of the Talking Heads and R.E.M.

Talking Heads' 1985 album "Little Creatures" cover art

R.E.M.'s 1984 "Reckoning" album cover art

I was lucky enough to see a small show of Finster’s work at the Toledo Museum of Art in the late 1980s when I attended college in Toledo.  It was because of this earlier attraction that I was excited to see Akron’s latest exhibit.

I still have the poster for the Toledo Museum of Art show from 1989.
Reverend Howard Finster was a colorful and charming Southern character.  A self-taught artist, Finster began painting in his 60s after claiming to have received instructions from God. Finster’s works are visions from God painted in a unique voice that often combines text and iconic imagery.  Finster is fond of re-using certain images including smiling faces in clouds, UFOs, angels, towers, and even shoes.  He frequently paints words, phrases, explanations and even Bible verses into his images.  His paintings are so packed with words and images that the viewer’s eye is drawn to investigate every corner of the work.

Finster's "The Seven Devils (2095)" can be seen all over Akron on billboards advertising the show
His subject matter ranges from religious appeals for salvation to portraits of famous people and American Presidents.  The Akron show includes portraits of Presidents George Washington, Eisenhower, Nixon and Grant as well as inventors and persons of interest such as Henry Ford, Eli Whitney, Elvis Presley, Uncle Sam and Santa Claus.  One of the most provocative portraits I saw was one of Daniel Boone with startling wolves surrounding him.  You can’t miss it.

Finster painted many angels similar to this one
One of Finster’s unusual signatures was to include in his paintings not only the year the work was completed but also the month, day and time of day.  Following what he believed were instructions from God to paint a specific number of paintings, Finster completed more than 46,000 in his lifetime which we know because he numbered them all.  I also noticed that Finster painted a great deal of his works using tractor enamel, an unusual medium.  Did I mention he was quite a character?

My favorite piece in the show
Finster achieved a certain amount of celebrity in his lifetime, dying in 2001.   He made an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1983.  A clip of this talk show is on display at the Akron Art Museum where you can see Finster discussing Paradise Garden, his outdoor garden and art space.  After a commercial break, Finster plays the banjo and sings an original song.  They don’t make ‘em like they used to.  I think my favorite piece of the Akron exhibit is found in a table-top display case, and is based on his experiences on The Tonight Show, a painting entitled “Howard Was On Johny [sic] Carson Show (3868).”  This piece is his own personal expression about how he felt after being on TV.

“Stranger in Paradise: The Works of Reverend Howard Finster” continues at the Akron Art Museum until June 3, 2012.  There are still two exhibition related events coming: a lecture on April 19 and a film screening on May 10.  Click here for the link to more details.  Who’s with me for a road trip to Paradise Garden--Finster’s outdoor garden and art space in Summerville, Georgia?


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  2. Wonderful colors and organic natural forms. Reminds me of a painting like Rainy landscape, by Russian painter Kandinsky,, that I saw at, from where one can order a canvas print of it. Really good place to browse the painter’s work and other work similar to your style of painting.