There is no way of knowing where the introduction started. He died when i was young. He is a folk art hero, one of those names along with Bill Traylor, Grandma Moses, Clementine Hunter, Henry Darger, John Henry, etc., that folks just know. He is so startlingly his own style, and has made such a mark in folk art, but also in Georgia, that is is strange to think folks do not know who he is. His work is a part of major museum collections and regular folk’s collections. He was out there, lit by his own fire for creation, and lit by God’s word.
So you can google him as easy as me. You might be better off to talk to that aunt or strange neighbor that you used to have, that collected all that weird stuff and had, like, glass globes and concrete animals in their yard. They probably got to see Howard Finster’s Paradise Garden while he was still alive to greet you. Here’s the story they might generally recall to tell you.
He was born in 1916 in Alabama, one of thirteen children. He had his first vision at the age of three, his deceased sister came down from the clouds to declare that he would be a man of visions. He was born again at the age of 13, and commenced to preaching at age 16. He retired in 1965, and in 1976 he got his next big vision. From Paradise Garden Foundation:
“One day I dipped my finger in some white paint and picked it up, and when I picked it up, it formed a face before I ever seen a face, and I turned it around to look and see if I had too much paint and there was two eyes, a mouth, a nose, and everything. A whole face. My finger looked like a face. And there was a feeling just came over me and said, “paint sacred art”. I said “Lord, I can’t paint. I don’t have no education in that”. So I took a dollar bill out of my wallet and started posing on the picture of George Washington. Some kids were around watching me work and that was the first time I felt I was an artist.”
He was told to paint 5,000 works, and by the 1980s he had hit the mark and moved on to the tens of thousands. By the time he passed in 2001, he had done nearly 47,000 paintings. His work is distinctive, it is his own. It is marked by his love and by his style, and deserve an up-close inspection and a faraway read, too. He painted Elvis and Hank, he painted aliens and cows, he painted dinosaurs and angels. This quote fromFinster is a good summation of how i feel about his work, and from the mouth of the man himself, to boot. He is above all, approachable, with more to offer than it might first appear.
Paradise Garden is still there today. They have an airbnb that allows you to walk the grounds at night and commune with the visions. The foundation that preserves the Garden just received a grant, it will be wonderful to see the space restored. The following are photos from my visit in September 2018. Walking through art environments tells you, if nothing else, that you are totally capable of anything. You just have to begin.
He is a character through and through, one i haven’t even fully dived into - delighted to see so many youtube videos with him speaking in them. This is the main one i am familiar with, which should endear him to anyone: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YweCaFHEZ50