First published: Summer 2008
At the beginning of the 21st century Howard Finster was probably the best-known vernacular artist in America, and since his death in 2001 his reputation as an iconic self-taught artist of the American South has continued to grow. His Christian evangelical end-time religiosity is crucial for understanding both his preacher's personality and his art as 'messages from God'.
There are, however, other aspects of Finster's maverick linkage of art and religion that are not so fully appreciated.
In keeping with Finster's favourite self-definition after 1976, he was most of all a 'Stranger from Another World'. Increasingly he was also a stranger to traditional Christian believers, and his paintings incorporated a diversity of secular pop imagery and visionary strangeness that transcended the boundaries of the Bible and conventional evangelical theology.
Finster's visionary experience as expressed in much of his multifaceted artwork is suggestive of narrative structures, images and themes that allude to shamanistic themes and the continuous presence of 'visionary' experience and expression throughout human history.