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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

June 02, 1996|Kristine McKenna

HOWARD FINSTER, STRANGER FROM ANOTHER WORLD: Man of Visions Now on This Earth By Howard Finster as told to Tom Patterson. (Abbeville Press: $45; 224 pp.) Howard Finster was 60 when he received a directive from God. The year was 1976 and he was painting a bicycle when he spilled paint on his thumb, perceived a face in the paint and "had a blush feeling telling me to paint sacred art."

Finster responded to this intuited order with a zeal nothing short of amazing. Now 80 and still working, he's produced approximately 15,000 works of art, and played a pivotal role in introducing Outsider Art to a wider audience.

The subject of a touring retrospective organized in 1989 by New York's Museum of American Folk Art, Finster also created album cover art for records by the Talking Heads and REM, and by the late '80s he'd become so popular his work was selling before the paint was dry. Not surprisingly, many early fans turned on him when he was no longer their little secret, and that venerable art world aphorism--"the early work was better"--began to follow him around.

In this book, first published in 1990, the painter reiterates again and again that he sees himself not as an artist, but as a messenger from God. Reared in the Baptist church, Finster began having visions at the age of 3 (he was playing in the family tomato patch when he saw his dead sister descend from heaven on a set of stairs), and worked on and off as a pastor throughout his life. He shifted from the pulpit to paint because he felt that passages from the Scriptures combined with colorful pictures would reach more people.

Speaking to this reporter in 1988, Finster declared, "I was sent by God to do a job, and I been working hard to wake people up to the fact that they need God, and they need things beside what they see around 'em on this planet. Cause lady, this world ain't nothin' but a gateway to God." Clearly, Finster has never given a thought to art world politics or to questions of style, so to measure his output by conventional standards is ridiculous--not that he'd care if we did. He answers to a higher authority.

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