Howard Finster:Man of Visions

Vision of a Great Gulf on Planet Hell, enamel on wood, 1980.

Visions of Heaven and Hell

Finster's larger paintings dealing with Hell are terrifying and bizarre. Despite the occasional bit of off-beat humor, these visions of damnation are stern, prophetic warnings. In his "Vision of a Great Gulf on Planet Hell", there are numerous figures falling through into a fiery pit filled with demons, a fire-breathing serpent, and what appears, disturbingly, to be a dog wearing a Santa Claus hat. Warnings abound, including, "THOSE WHO DON'T BELIEVE IN HELL WILL WIND UP IN HELL." This brings up an important issue in Finster's mission. The compassion and love often depicted in other works is completely absent here. His spoken sermons, like many others of the revivalist type, rely heavily on horrific imagery of suffering in Hell. The warning of Hell seems to be a necessary compliment to the promise of eternal life, and Finster is able to frighten very effectively, both orally and visually. It is perhaps a function of the melodramatic, emotional quality of revivalist ministry and certainly fertile ground for an imaginative artist like Finster. It is a startling image which has been neglected in much modern religious art. Finster is emphatic about hell: he has seen it in a vision, he says, and it is his duty to warn us in the most persuasive manner possible.

And the Moon Became as Blood, enamel on masonite, 1976.

In another, "And the Moon Became as Blood", an early painting from 1976, the subject is the Book of Revelations, probably the favorite part of the Bible for the revivalist preacher. It is an illustration of the Apocalypse, with the sun turned black, the moon a deep red, and the landscape dominated by a river and a sea of blood. The painting is interesting in its bold, literal interpretation of the Bible's prophecy. There is no room for interpretation here; Finster's vision is faithful, chapter and verse, to the scripture. It is a visual prophecy and serves as a more easily-grasped model for what the artist would have us keep in mind: the Judgment. This is, for Finster, an essential part of his educational mission. To quote him from the painting discussed above, "THOSE WHO DON'T BELIEVE IN HELL WILL WIND UP IN HELL." Similarly, those who don't believe in the Judgment will be judged faithless, presumably. Taken along with the other works seen in Paradise garden, where this painting is located, it is part of a comprehensive and compelling argument to repent.

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