Finster remembered being called to preach in 1931 when he was only 15 years old and remained a preacher until his death. In 1937, Finster moved to Chattooga County with his young wife Pauline and their first child. He worked in various cotton mills, and pastored at churches and revivals to make a living. In 1961, the Finsters moved to Pennville, Georgia where Howard worked as a bicycle and small engine repairman. In the early 1960s, Finster also began working on the Plant Farm Museum, an environment constructed behind his home that was intended to contain “every man-made item” and was composed of buildings, concrete sculptures, waterways, biblical signs, paintings, towers constructed from bicycle frames, and even an “unknown body.” In 1975, Esquire magazine referred to Finster’s environment as Paradise Garden, and the artist willingly adopted the name.
In 1976, Finster reported having a vision to “paint sacred art” when a dab on paint on his thumb spoke to him. Finster responded to the call, working day and night in every medium available to him, with one goal: to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. To reach a maximum audience, he incorporated iconic figures from American history like Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Henry Ford, and George Washington, to name a few, into his paintings, sculpture, and famous “cut-outs.” Finster’s most compelling works are inventive and poetic biblical lessons that incorporate humor and gravity in equal measure.
Finster’s work entered into the realm of popular culture in the 1980s when he designed album covers for the bands R.E.M. and the Talking Heads. He even appeared on Johnny Carson’s “The Tonight Show” and his work was included in the 41st Venice Biennale in 1984. Through his prolific production and high profile collaborations, Finster’s work reached millions of people, but his singular goal of “spreading the gospel” remained unchanged. When asked about the Talking Heads album, Finster said, "I think there's twenty-six religious verses on that first cover I done for them. They sold a million records in the first two and a half months after it come out, so that's twenty-six million verses I got out into the world in two and a half months!"
do the write thing: read between the lines, christian berst art brut gallery, new york, from october 30th to december 21st, 2014.
exhibition catalogue, do the write thing: read between the lines, new york, christian berst art brut ed., 2014.