Stranger In Paradise: The Works of Reverend Howard Finster

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Survey exhibition examines the career of one of the
most astounding and prolific self-taught artists
July 24 – September 26, 2010

Howard Finster, Howard's Last Painting, 2000.

The Chicago Cultural Center hosts the exhibition Stranger in Paradise: The Works of Reverend Howard Finster, an exhibition of objects, paintings, and documentation from one of outsider art’s renowned artists. 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. This in-depth survey of Finster’s career covers the variety of themes in his work, much of it relating to his visionary experiences, including: Visions of Other Worlds, Sermons in Paint, Historical and cultural heroes, and his famed installation environment at the Plant Farm Museum [Paradise Garden].

Stranger in Paradise: The Works of Reverend Howard Finster will be on view in the Sidney R. Yates Gallery on the fourth floor of the Chicago Cultural Center from July 24 to September 26, 2010. Admission to the exhibition and associated programs is free.

Howard Finster, Howard Was On Johnny Carson Show, 1984.

Born in rural Alabama in 1916, Finster went on to become a preacher, tent revivalist, and “master of 22 different trades” before building his roadside tribute to inventors, the Plant Farm Museum. 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, and 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. In a 1975 article, Esquire magazine dubbed the rock- and junk-encrusted wonderland “Paradise Garden,” and the name stuck.

Howard Finster, Mr. Coke, 1984.

In 1976, Finster’s focus changed. As he was using his hands to apply paint to a refurbished bicycle, Finster noticed that the paint smudge on his finger had created a perfect human face. A voice spoke to him, saying, “paint sacred art.” In response, Finster churned out thousands of sermon-laden artworks with subjects ranging from historical characters and popular culture icons like Elvis Presley to evangelistic fantasy landscapes and futuristic cities. Most works are meticulously covered in Finster’s own hand-lettered words and biblical verse, recording visionary prophesies and providing glimpses of a celestial outer space world that Finster believed God had revealed to him.

Finster’s preaching experience and showman-like personality helped shape his public persona and ever-increasing celebrity. To spread his vision beyond Paradise Garden, Finster designed record album covers for rock groups such as R.E.M. and Talking Heads. Interviews, films, and his famous appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson further advanced his evangelical message.

Stranger in Paradise: The Works of Reverend Howard Finster is curated by Glen C. Davies, organized by Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,

This exhibition is made possible in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Related Events

Friday, July 23, 5:30 pm: Gallery Talk with Glen Davies, curator of the exhibition
Friday, July 23, 6-8 pm: Opening Reception
Thursday, August 12, 12:15 pm: Gallery Talk with Michael Bonesteel, author and art historian
Monday, August 30, 6 pm: Howard Finster Film Screening and Panel Discussion
Thursday, September 2, 12:15 pm, 1st fl Garland Room: Slide Lecture with Lisa Stone, Director of the Roger Brown Study Center


The exhibition is accompanied by a 152-page hardcover, full color catalog and includes essays by Jim Arient, N. J. Girardot, Phyllis Kind, and exhibition curator Glen C. Davies.

Howard Finster, Strife Beyond The Life Of The Sun, 1984.

Viewing hours for Stranger in Paradise: The Works of Reverend Howard Finster and other exhibitions at the Chicago Cultural Center are Mondays through Thursdays, 8 am to 7 pm; Fridays, 8 am to 6 pm; Saturdays 9 am to 6 pm; and Sundays, 10 am to 6 pm. The Chicago Cultural Center is closed on holidays. Admission to Chicago Cultural Center exhibitions is free.

For more information about Stranger in Paradise: The Works of Reverend Howard Finster and the Chicago Cultural Center, the public can visit www.chicagoculturalcenter.org or call 312.744.6630. (TTY: 312.744.2947).