Visions Planets Beyond the Light of the Sun by Howard Finster

Howard Finster

Visions Planets Beyond the Light of the Sun, 1978, Tractor enamel on masonite board with hand-made frame, 76.84 x 40.64 cm, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC, © Howard Finster / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo: Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC / Art Resource, NY

Close Close
Zoom in Zoom in
Zoom out Zoom out
Reset image Reset image

Stranger from Another World

Commentary by

Howard Finster (1915/16–2001) was a charismatic Southern Baptist preacher who became a visionary ‘painter of sacred art’ (Girardot 2015: 128ff.), and is a key figure in the emergence of ‘outsider art’.

Finster’s ‘painted sermons’ were a response to the End Time he saw coming during the Cold War era. In 1976 he experienced a revelatory transformation. After this, as a self-taught artist and prophetic ‘Stranger from Another World’, Finster manically produced myriad artworks displaying the dire signs of the times and the message to get right with the Lord.

Finster proudly declared the ‘only book’ he ever read was the King James Bible (Girardot 2015: 17). His understanding of his prophetic mission and artistic method is found in Hosea 12:10. Biblical quotations inscribed in the painting’s upper right declare that God had ‘spoken by the prophets’, and ‘multiplied visions, and used similitudes, by the ministry of the prophets’. The King James translation of ‘similitudes’ for damah (an imagistic ‘likeness’ rather than the logocentric ‘parables’) had special relevance for his use of both words and graphic images.

In this early tractor enamel painting, Finster’s self-styled status as a visionary astronaut informed his depiction of God’s ‘manny’ heavenly planets. In keeping with the myth and mystery of UFOs that was prevalent at that time, Finster interpreted all biblical prophets from Noah to Jesus as extraterrestrial strangers. To act on these prophetic messages from outer space would require, as the painting’s inscription says, ‘faith’ in God, and not the foolish knowledge of infidels. This curiously crude work from the nether world of Finster’s visionary brain also shows that he felt compelled to paint images along with the many words scribbled all over the surface of his paintings and constructions.

Finster’s untrained comic-book style of religious ‘marketing’ had a peculiar power to be simultaneously provocative, oddly memorable, and humorously weird. Depicted here is one of his characteristic early visions of a funky-funny cartoon-like outer space heavenly world of ‘no law, no sin, no death’—a divinely alien world of squiggly people and various animals who eat only mushrooms, live without a heartbeat, are sustained by ‘vibrating mussels’, inhabit unusual spaceship-like buildings, and seem to be addicted to constantly climbing conical mountains seen on the land and in the sky. For Finster, the Bible should be read imaginatively as a kind of presciently ancient, but quite current, sci-fi graphic novel.  

 

References

Beal, Timothy. 2005. Roadside Religion: In Search of the Sacred, the Strange, and the Substance of Faith (BostonBeacon Press)

Finster, Howard and Tom Patterson. 1989. Stranger from Another World: Man of Visions Now on This Earth (New York: Abbeville Press)

Girardot, Norman. 2015. Envisioning Howard Finster: The Religion and Art of a Stranger from Another World (Berkeley: University of California Press)

———. 2015. ‘Exploring Howard Finster’s Brain’, Parts 1 and 2 available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i1K2vqiSDQo and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6ISVDBOqvE

Peacock, Robert (1996). Paradise Garden: A Trip Through Howard Finster’s Visionary World (San Francisco: Chronicle Books)

Turner, J.F. 1989. Howard Finster: Man of Visions (New York: Alfred A. Knopf)


Read next commentary