An evangelistic preacher in paint and self-proclaimed Man of Visions, Reverend Howard Finster became one of the most widely known and prolific self-taught artists, producing over 46,000 pieces of art by his death in 2001. Finster often referred to himself as “a stranger from another world” and “God’s last red light on the planet earth.” He saw himself as a sacred artist, fulfilling his visionary prophesies revealed to him by God through a heavenly, outer space world. Thus Finster believed he was to disperse warnings to people to save their souls from the horrors of hell. These experiences were very real to Finster and provided a seemingly limitless variety of images for his art, and content for his rapid fire, stream of consciousness monologues.
In the mid-1960s, Finster began building a roadside park, first known as the Plant Farm Museum, an attraction meant to display all of “the inventions of mankind.” This soon transformed into an outdoor museum of collaged concrete sculpture, collections of unusual junk and recycled machine parts, hanging sun catchers, and buildings covered in paintings and signs. Later, in an 1975 article in Esquire magazine, it was dubbed “Paradise Garden,” and the name stuck.
Finster said he was “God’s junk man.” Endlessly inventive, he took all manner of salvaged junk and discarded items, and using his ingenuity and tireless energy, created expressions of his personal visions. In his poem for the garden, he stated, “I took the pieces that you threw away and put them together by night and day, washed by the rain, dried by the sun, a million pieces all in one.”
This exhibition provides an in-depth survey of Finster’s career, covering the variety of themes inherent in his work, much of it relating to his visionary experiences, including: Visions of Other Worlds, Sermons in Paint, Historical and Cultural Heroes and The Plant Farm Museum [Paradise Garden]. 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.