A smudge of paint on Howard Finster’s thumb turned into a successful art career and international acclaim. There’s still time to see Finster’s groundbreaking exhibit, “Stranger in Paradise: The Works of Reverend Howard Finster,” at the Akron Art Museum through June 3.
This is the first major retrospective of the folk art icon, offering visitors an in-depth look at the life and career of a visionary artist represented in the museum’s collection.
“We’ve been wanting outsider or folk art because we actively collect it,” said Ellen Rudolph, Akron Art Museum’s interim chief curator. “We already have a few of pieces at the museum, so it was a wonderful chance to show more of his works.”
Born in 1916, Finster was many things — a preacher, a tent revivalist, “master of 22 trades,” but his art career began in 1976 while repairing a bicycle. He said he saw an apparition of God’s face on his finger and a voice told him to make sacred art.
Finster was a self-taught artist and only completed sixth grade. Before his death in 2001, he produced more than 46,000 works of art. We know this because his works are numbered in the order in which he painted them.
“Although extremely religious, Finster was an equal opportunist, so he had no issues working with people of different beliefs because he felt it was all part spreading his message to the world,” Rudolph said.
For example, his works range from historical characters and cultural icons such as George Washington and Elvis Presley to evangelistic fantasy landscapes and futuristic cities. He collaborated with artists such as Keith Haring and designed record album covers for groups such as R.E.M. and Talking Heads.
Although he and his home, Paradise Gardens, became famous, Finster remained true to making sacred art. Today there is controversy over whether his work falls into the contemporary art world because most of his works cannot be neatly classified into a specific art category.
“Stranger in Paradise: The Works of Reverend Howard Finster” is curated by Glen C. Davies and is organized by Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. For more information. visit www.akronartmuseum.org.