Howard Finster saw a human face in his own fingerprint. The face spoke and told him to paint sacred art. Finster, who claims to have received visions since the age of three, abandoned his career as a preacher and, at the age of sixty-one and without any artistic training, began to paint toward his initial goal of 5,000 works of art.
Some 40,000 works of art later, Finster's painting "Howard Preaching" is part of Saints, Haints, and Monsters, an exhibit organized by artist Anton Haardt. This show features works by self-taught, better known as "outsider," artists including Mose Tolliver, Jimmie Lee Sudduth, Sybil Gibson, and Juanita Rogers.
An early collector of this style of art, Haardt first purchased a Mose Tolliver titled "Tico Bird" in 1969 and has never stopped. She explains, "The strength of these artist's work is their lack of self-consciousness as to what their art is or should be. It is their sheer impulse to create, and there in its raw beauty lies its power. When I first saw Mose's paintings hanging in trees many years ago, I took an unexpected delight in the muddy pink 'Tiger Toils' and misshapen self-portraits. In one way the paintings seemed ugly, and in another way I was charmed by their raw beauty."
"Outsiders," with its romantic overtone, has been the most popular term to describe these artists. They are self-taught, imaginative, and many of them have been isolated from the contemporary art world. They share Southern roots, some of the same social and economic constraints, and the results of the fevered popularity of folk art in the past twenty years. Even though eccentricity and isolation have in many cases nurtured their creativity, often they have been misunderstood and shunned by their relatives, friends and peers.
There is Sybil Gibson, who spent most of her life estranged from her family, drifting between second-rate hotels and trailers across the United States. She was seized by an urge to paint on grocery bags, and on this unusual canvas she poured out her passions. There is also Lonnie Holley, a Birmingham artist, who explains, "People call me crazy. They call me foolish. They call me Voodoo Man. They call me Witch Doctor, but I am not a demon-maker. I'm just a reflection of what life is really like."
Saints, Haints, and Monsters is not only be a show of outsider artists, but combines curious heavenly statues, antique gargoyles, and folk art paintings and sculptures of boogey men and alien creatures. An eclectic blend of celestial visionary works--including Mexican retablos of saints being thanked for miraculous salvations from pregnancy, vampire bats, and clandestine lovers--is displayed aside other, more restless, imagery. Between the companions from heaven and hell is the uniquely Southern icon, the haint, often defined as an unwelcome spirit or ghost that haunts a specific house.
The show features striking juxtapositions of images and objects: a collection of German Meissen Cupids hangs next to a King Kong photo autographed by Fay Wray, winged flesh-colored angels painted by Mose Tolliver next to an autographed photograph of Ben Chapman in his cult-classic Creature from The Black Lagoon costume, an autographed Elsa Lanchester portrait as Bride of Frankenstein alongside extraterrestrial visionary images of self-taught artist Royal Robertson.
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