Sunday, June 1, 2014

Fun With Finster

Private collection not for re-use.
Three months is a long time to pause from blogging.

Unfortunately, the day after the most recent post, my mother died in hospice care while I awaited flights home from Sochi and Frankfurt.

Upon returning to my home state, where my dad was recovering from a January stroke, there were many weeks of anxious work to try helping with his recovery.

Though there were days of improvement, unfortunately he also died, on April 15 (perhaps fitting given his 35+ year career working for the Internal Revenue Service).

It's been a tough many weeks.

Sincere thanks go out to family, friends and readers (some acquaintances, some strangers) who sent notes of condolences.

Finally home in Atlanta for more than a few days, a couple of weeks ago I took some time to explore a North Georgia destination that lingered on my "to do" list for a good long while.

Paradise Garden in Summerville, Ga., is tucked away in the mountains of North Georgia up the highway from Rome and a few clicks south of Chattanooga, Tenn.

For the uninitiated, the Garden in this case is the proper name given to the private residence of Rev. Howard Finster, an Alabama-born minister who, in 1976 (approaching age 60), enjoyed his first "visions" from God telling him to spread His word through art -- 5,000 pieces of art, to be exact.

Finster tackled this assignment in earnest, and by the early 1980s his faith-inspired work made it to the homes of many friends and fans, and onto the covers of music albums by R.E.M., Talking Heads and others, not to mention into the marketing plans for big companies in Georgia and beyond.

He transformed Paradise Garden from a densely wooded patch of swamp into a living work of art, transforming others' trash (and his own tools and collection of bottles, machinery, toys, junk and "stuff") into treasured and unusual immersive experiences, with many bones of his work -- mosaic walls and footpaths, a workshop, chicken coop, garage and corridor of items inspired by and gifted to the Garden -- still on view.

In my part-time P.R. assignment at the High Museum of Art, I take monthly walks over to the Folk Art section to view their large assortment of Finster objects billed as the "largest public collection of objects from Paradise Garden."

Prior to the Summerville sojourn, it was fun to see the easy-to-recognize self-taught objects in the National Gallery of Art, Milwaukee Art Museum and other destination museums in the U.S.

The trek to Paradise Garden taught me a lot -- I recommend a visit. In the new visitor's center attached to a previous Finster workspace, guests should take time to view the videos including interviews with the artist, including an appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Out in the Garden, take time to view the fading Keith Haring while it's still there, and also the Cadillac covered with hand-drawn and painted portraits beyond saving but surprising morsels of Finster's handiwork not yet touched by the on-site restoration team.

During the afternoon on site, I learned of two other Finster experiences of note. Sadly, this blog post is too late to preview today's Finster Fest 2014, which continues this afternoon (Sunday, June 1).

But readers have a full-year to trek to the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta, which last week mounted a special exhibition titled "Howard Finster: Visions of Coca-Cola" featuring a private collection of Coke-inspired Finster creations, including a few for which there is an Olympic connection.

For five-ringed aficionados, be sure to view the Atlanta Olympic Coke bottle cutout painting (among the first works visible at the exhibition entrance) -- Finster was one of many artists from around the world who created Olympic/Coke bottle folk artwork for the 1996 Games. The exhibition also includes some rarely-displayed items from Finster's studio, including a stool, brushes and other artifacts of his home. For any Finster fan, this is a must-see exhibition.

The downtown Atlanta display also teaches a self-taught technique Finster often employed (Paradise Garden also features more details on this process from a private commission).

To create portraits or patterns he intended to re-use, the Reverend took a snapshot or other image of his subject, drew a paper illustration in his own hand, then created a cutout version he could use to recreate the likeness many times (as I understand it, Finster referred to the cutouts as "dimentions" -- see example in photo at base of this post).

This technique also evolved into some shapes for his more popular works on boards, such as cars, shoes, wagons, dinosaurs or beverage bottles, helping with consistency of form while permitting customization and -- back to the original vision and mission -- an effective manner of spreading God's word across the world.

Finster needed a little help, perhaps, as he eventually created more than 46,000 numbered works, and many thousands more unnumbered, executed before and after his original vision from God, which he saw in the form of a smiley face of paint on his fingertip.

Back at Paradise Garden, Olympic-minded collectors may wish to purchase a fine-art print featuring Finster's non-Coke take on the "OLEMPICS" in the form of numbered prints priced at $500, featuring an Atlas-like figure holding up a globe with hand-written messages about Atlanta's Games.

Not a bad vision for the Olympic world.

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver, with thanks to the World of Coca-Cola for a ticket to the exhibition and museum.

Section of Howard Finster's hand-painted Cadillac.
One of two covered wagons on view at Paradise Garden studio entrance.
View from entrance to special exhibition "Howard Finster: Visions of Coca-Cola"

Detail of Howard Finster's 1996 Atlanta Olympic Coke Bottle.
Private collection items on view
in the World of Coca-Cola exhibition.
Example of cut paper "dimention" by Finster.
Paradise Garden includes further examples
of cutouts Finster used to create and repeat
portraits of individuals from presidents
and private commissions to personal
friends and family members.

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