Howard Finster would eat instant coffee by the spoonful and sleep with his work boots on. He died ten years ago at the age of 85 but continues to be a powerful inspiration to me. He lived around Summerville Georgia his entire life and didn't begin to paint until he was he was sixty five years old. Howard had a Moses and the burning bush like intervention in his life, According to Howard,
"..."one day I was workin' on a patch job on a bicycle, and I was rubbin' some white paint on that patch with this finger here, and I looked at the round tip o' my finger, and there was a human face on it... then a warm feelin' come over my body, and a voice spoke to me and said, 'Paint sacred art.'"
Howard went on to protest that he was not qualified as he didn't have any proper training in making art but God won the arguement and now we are all the benifactors.
I was first introduced to Howards's art through my friend Glen Davies when I was going to graduate school at the University of Illinois in the mid 80's. Glen had developed a friendship with Howard because he would visit with him when he would go down south in the winter. Glenn made good money in Florida painting carnival rides and circus freak show banners. Glen had a great collection of Howards work in his house at the time and incredible stories to go with them.
From that first vision on his finger Howard went on to paint picture after picture numbering a dating every single one. He also filled his yard and big garden with sculptures and architectural whimsy that made his neighbors mumble and point fingers. Eventually an art professor from the University of Georgia took notice and gave Howard a show at the University art gallery. Next stop was the Phyllis Kind Gallery when she found out about his work through the show at the University. Phyllis gave Howard a show in her New York gallery and that was how David Byrne discovered Howard who then called him up to ask him to design the next Talking Heads album cover. Howard had no idea who David Byrne was but they discovered they were both big fans of Elvis Presly so a quick friendship was minted and a great album cover painted. This kind of pin ball flipper and bounce into fame was actually an answer to Howard's prayer years ago when he asked the Lord to make him famous like he did Elvis, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.
The courage that Howard had to just "put it out there" bubbled up in the center of his life like a fountain that sprung from his child like faith in a big God who could do anything. Howard was an old man in a small town who had a regular stream of visitors from every day tourists to pop icons like Michael Stipe of REM. He didn't need an art supply store, he simply worked with what he had at hand. In spite of his lack of formal art education he demonstrated mind-bending creativity in the some 48,000 art works he created instead of retiring. I have a postcard and message somewhere that Howard sent me after I wrote him a fan letter in 1985 that I wanted to share but couldn't find this morning. I was planning a visit that never happened. Even though I didn't make that visit I have felt encouraged by his story ever since I first came across his work in Glenn Davies folk art collection twenty six years ago.