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.
Beal, Timothy. 2005. Roadside Religion: In Search of the Sacred, the Strange, and the Substance of Faith (Boston: Beacon 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)
12Eʹphraim has encompassed me with lies,
and the house of Israel with deceit;
but Judah is still known by God,
and is faithful to the Holy One.
12Eʹphraim herds the wind,
and pursues the east wind all day long;
they multiply falsehood and violence;
they make a bargain with Assyria,
and oil is carried to Egypt.
2The Lord has an indictment against Judah,
and will punish Jacob according to his ways,
and requite him according to his deeds.
3In the womb he took his brother by the heel,
and in his manhood he strove with God.
4He strove with the angel and prevailed,
he wept and sought his favor.
He met God at Bethel,
and there God spoke with him—
5the Lord the God of hosts,
the Lord is his name:
6“So you, by the help of your God, return,
hold fast to love and justice,
and wait continually for your God.”
7A trader, in whose hands are false balances,
he loves to oppress.
8Eʹphraim has said, “Ah, but I am rich,
I have gained wealth for myself”;
but all his riches can never offset
the guilt he has incurred.
9I am the Lord your God
from the land of Egypt;
I will again make you dwell in tents,
as in the days of the appointed feast.
10I spoke to the prophets;
it was I who multiplied visions,
and through the prophets gave parables.
11If there is iniquity in Gilead
they shall surely come to nought;
if in Gilgal they sacrifice bulls,
their altars also shall be like stone heaps
on the furrows of the field.
12(Jacob fled to the land of Aram,
there Israel did service for a wife,
and for a wife he herded sheep.)
13By a prophet the Lord brought Israel up from Egypt,
and by a prophet he was preserved.
14Eʹphraim has given bitter provocation;
so his Lord will leave his bloodguilt upon him,
and will turn back upon him his reproaches.