Howard Finster: Man of Visions

Roy and Michael Finster: The Next Generations Take Up the Paintbrush

Interestingly, Finster's son and grandson have also taken up painting, both in a style which closely resembles the senior Finster's. Son Roy met me at the gate of Paradise Garden when I visited in 1992 and showed me a number of pieces that he had painted and was selling. He showed me a number of likenesses of country music stars on plywood cut-outs closely resembling those of his father. I didn't but any of them, but I did buy an R.C. Cola from the vending machine that he had placed on the porch of the studio to make a little money off of the tourist traffic. In this, I saw an entrepreneurial gesture, albeit naive, which did not quite jibe with my expectations of a "folk artist" family then.

I spoke with Roy on the phone, and he explained that he had recently quit his job as handy-man at the Chatooga County Hospital in order to paint full-time. Among his accomplishments, he claims that Johnny Cash owns one of his "Johnny Cash" series and that President Bill Clinton has a painting Roy made of him. His other subjects include historical figures, religious visions, devils, angels, and the '57 Chevy Bel Air. One might get the sense that Roy has simply jumped on the folk art bandwagon, led by his father. In talking with him, though, I began to feel like maybe Roy is the real naif.

Roy displays little of the histrionic sermonizing his father has become famous for. In conversation, he actually seems to have little understanding of why he paints, besides the fact that it now "pays the bills." But even his consciousness of the marketplace is cloudy: "Painting for me is a lifetime of enjoyment...and other people seem to like what I do." Asked if Howard has taught him or given him advice on his work, Roy says that he hasn't and further explains that his work is very different from his father's because he spends more time on each painting than the elder Finster, regardless of the fact that some of their works look virtually identical. He several times referred to himself as a "folk artist," by which he means "self-taught."

Roy's son, Michael, dropped out of high school to help Howard with his work. He began ten years ago cutting plywood for his grandfather's stand-up pieces and applying base coats of paint for Howard to then paint over. His subjects are primarily from the natural world --- snakes, birds, crawling things --- and, like a chip off the chip off the old block, religious visions.

Depending on how one takes these second- and third-generation visionary folk artists, one might surmise that they are carrying on a tradition of either evangelical mysticism or cynical commercialism. But, as one finds in trying to define the motivation of Howard Finster, one might come to understand that the Finster Family's brand of missionary zeal is tempered by a hearty sense of humor, and their interest in the commercial aspects of their art might well be termed "folksy" and slightly naive.

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