HOWARD FINSTER

+  MOUNTAIN LAKE WORKSHOP

The first Mountain Lake workshop directed by celebrated Georgia "outsider"/folk artist Reverend Howard Finster was an important introduction to collaborative experience. Many workshop participants cut out and interpretively painted stencilled patterns that they had individually selected from virtually hundreds of Finster's own "visionary" designs. By agreement with Finster and the workshop participants, the finished paintings were combined in specially designed panels and given to the Art Museum of Western Virginia. Known as Howard Finster's "workout", this special collection demonstrates an essential aspect of Finster's artistic and aesthetic belief (i.e. that all images realized by the imagination are "visionary" and that the communicative power of a "visionary" image is inherent and can be conveyed by anyone's artistic effort). This was a particularly edifying way in which to associate the process or means of artistic production with the creative motive of the work. Successive workshops have revealed a pattern of interaction in which creative strategies seem to carry over and develop as a form of expression of the workshop itself.

Reverand Howard Finster is arguably the most famous American artist since Andy Warhol. The work of both artists conveys a personal sense of the “weird”, but the evangelical sign & language based-art imagery (that Finster inscribed on virtually everything kind of natural or man-made surface) tossed a captivating net over the fascinated eyes and minds of popular as well as (eventually) high art culture. I feel that Howard’s inscriptions of spiritual admonishment in his art actually aroused more controversy in the sophisticated art world than did Warhol’s display of deviant, voyeuristic fetishism.

 

Yet both artists confronted humanity, no matter how dark or troubled their visions, in the all-forgiving embrace of their irrepressed images; that is the gift of their art (and all great art) to open us to experience. Finster’s genuinely sincere, unremittingly tough-minded, and philosophically sublime art captured the largest audience for visual art in more than two decades; since the phenomena of Warhol’s icons of advertising and dehumanized logos, or Jasper John’s language-based cryptic imagery of unremitting clues.

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