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.
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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