Howard Finster was a minister and bicycle repair man, age 60, when he saw a face in a splotch of paint on his finger. The face had a voice and the voice told him to paint. He set out to paint 5,000 works before his time was up on this Earth but ended up painting nearly 50,000.
His work preached the Gospel as he understood it. A gospel of salvation, for bicycles, humans, things or beings castaway or neglected or in need. His philosophy towards people in his words was “I never met someone I did not love.” He passionately recycled, rebuilt and rejuvenated through his work, adorning a complex of his creation called Paradise Gardens in Summerville, Georgia with a myriad of found objects saved from junkyard fates.
He inspired “folk” or “outsider” artists from far and wide, including some who broke through to the inside, like Keith Haring and Purvis Young, and his own work became known outside of Georgia through album covers he designed for the Talking Heads and R.E.M.
The Gardens themselves were in need of some resuscitation until just recently, but thanks to Chattooga County and the Paradise Garden Foundation they’re back in bloom, free and open to all, though there’s still work to do. His World’s Folk Art Church with its signature 16-sided cupola can’t open its doors without further repair. If there’s enough Howard Finster left in this world, those doors will be open any day now.
Photos by Dave Joffe.