Broadly, the term “Outside Art” is used to encompass any art created by an artist not trained, embraced or represented by traditional art institutions such as museums or art schools. Initially it was art from children or the insane, whom expressionists believed were not tainted by culture and civilization, it was “pure” art and referred to as art brut by the French artist Jean Dubuffet. Currently, the definition of “outsider art” is an ongoing controversy, but at a minimum it would include folk and visionary works. And with the American South’s deep fundamentalist religious beliefs, its artists create some of the most mesmerizing and entertaining art.
Probably the best known artist in the folk/visionary category would be Howard Finster (1916-2001). The evangelical Baptist minister said he had his first vision when he was 3 years old, when he saw his deceased sister descending from the sky wearing a white gown. The vision that ultimately inspired him to paint sacred art occurred in 1976, “… one day I was workin’ on a patch job on a bicycle, and I was rubbin’ some white paint on that patch with this finger here, and I looked at the round tip o’ my finger, and there was a human face on it … then a warm feelin’ come over my body, and a voice spoke to me and said, ‘Paint sacred art.’” And paint he did, creating over 46,000 pieces in less than 26 years.
His paintings range from the spiritual to historical figures (such as George Washington) and pop (like Elvis, for example). His images are vividly colorful and detailed on a flat background with no perspective. They are often covered with Bible verses.
He gained real fame in 1983 when he created the cover for rock band REM’s second album Reckoning. In 1985, the Talking Heads commissioned Finster to create the album cover for Little Creatures, later selected by Rolling Stone as album cover of the year.
He said of the Talking Heads album, “I think there’s 26 religious verses on that first cover I done for them. They sold a million records in the first two and a half months after it come out, so that’s 26 million verses I got out into the world in two and a half months!” Spoken like a true Southern evangelical minister.
Notable events recommended:
Finster Fest 2013, May 18th and 19th
Kentuck Festival of the Arts in Northport, Alabama, third weekend of October 2013