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Stranger In Paradise: The Works of Howard Finster

Stranger In Paradise:
The Works of Reverend Howard Finster
By James Calemine

"For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
And there will be earthquakes in various places, and there will be famines and troubles. These are the beginnings of sorrows."

                                        Mark 13:8 

Last week Griffin Bufkin and I visited the exhibition called Stranger In Paradise: The Works of Reverend Howard Finster at the Telfair Museum in Savannah, Georgia. Born in Valley Head, Alabama, Finster lived in Pennville, Georgia, and produced 46,000 works of art before his death in 2001. Finster painted everything from Elvis to George Washington to John the Baptist.

A Baptist minister, Finster referred to himself as a sacred artist who recorded his visions of prohecy and outer space that God revealed to him. His paintings and artwork provide a compelling argument for his ability and insight. It was amazing to see this collection of his work in person. He was obviously a very inspired individual. I was reminded he painted R.E.M's album cover for Reckoning.

R.E.M exposed Finster's work to a wider audience. R.E.M singer Michael Stipe said this about Finster: "Finster's completely out of the mainstream. There's something that really appeals to me about people, who in this day and age, work outside that whole miasma of everyday life." Finster appears in the R.E.M. video "Radio Free Europe", which was filmed at Finster's home. R.E.M recorded a song about Finster called "Maps and Legends". Finster also appeared in the documentary film Athens, GA: Inside Out. The Talking Heads also commissioned Finter's talent for their Little Creatures album artwork. 

To see the work up close is inspiring. A biblical proverb fits into each painting. He intended to spread the gospel. I spoke with several people who visited Finster's home in Pennville. I allowed Mr. Bufkin to have his say on Reverend Finster:

"The good Reverend is one of the most iconic and recognized outside artists. He would be considered the grandfather of southern folk art. I've followed his career since 84 when I fell in love with R.E.M and the southern kudzu mythology it represented. He was a savvy individual. He knew it was show business. His roots were in the roadside attraction. He was naive to a point, and so was his art--but he wasn't as naive as people thought the art might be..." 

For me, seeing these paintings in the museum, it hit home that whatever you do...it's important to always keep God in mind and being kind to others. It's a wicked world, and Finster's work reminds of a way to avoid pitfalls of the flesh and spirit we all encounter. His paintings contain wonder, hope, prophecies, positivity and a spirit that 'There are things we can control...and there are things we cannot'. Griffin and I watched the episode of Finster appearing on the Johnny Carson show...there it was...a Georgia preacher high in the Hollywood hills telling stories to the legendary Johnny Carson. Pure soul... 

When we left, I felt like I just received a bear hug from an old friend...

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