Howard Finster, a Baptist preacher whose evangelical faith, outgoing personality and compulsive work habits made him one of the most prominent and prolific folk artists of the 20th century, died yesterday in a hospital in Rome, Ga. He was 84 and lived in Summerville, Ga.
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His death was announced on his Web site, www. Both said that ''he is more alive now than he ever has been'' and that ''he never met a person that he didn't love. By the time he died, Mr. Finster, who called himself a ''second Noah,'' was a celebrity in his own right.
Review: Eloquent film about Howard Finster, Paradise Garden past and future, at Goat Farm
He played his banjo on Johnny Carson's television show, designed an award-winning record album cover for the Talking Heads and executed paintings to hang in the Library of Congress. He appeared at folk music festivals, a conference on Elvis and art schools around the country. Lee Kogan, director of the Folk Art Institute at the American Museum of Folk Art, called him ''one of the most important self-taught artists of the 20th century'' and cited his ability to ''imaginatively transform humble everyday material others would call junk.
A list of the detritus that went into Mr. Finster's Paradise Garden, located 90 miles northwest of Atlanta, would probably fill a book.
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The other cornerstone of his fame is his densely apocalyptic text-image paintings, which he seemed to produce at assembly-line rates. Their lush, extravagantly crowded surfaces form latter-day illuminated manuscripts and cover subjects that include heaven and hell, tales from the Bible and American history and popular culture.
But his prominence was certainly aided by his stream-of-consciousness talk, his combination of modesty and absolute certainty in both his faith and his talent, and his nonstop religious visions. He claimed to have had his first at the age of 3 when he was visited by his dead sister, Abby. Finster's work emerged at a time when traditional definitions of folk art were being expanded to include a diverse range of faith-driven, stylistically raw work known as outsider art that was frequently made by Southern blacks and whites who eked out livings as farmers or repairmen.
Finster both benefited from and helped define this change. One of his sermons in paint is featured on the Talking Heads album cover Little Creatures Sales of this album reached the million mark. Finster had made a vow to paint 5, pictures. He reached his goal in and kept on painting.
At the time of his death in , his works number over 46, They are sought by museums and collectors alike. Many of the important sculptures have been sold to museums and private collectors. Others have been compromised by neglect and the elements. The Gardens are in the process of being restored.
It reopened in November Call I try to live perfect. I built this park of broken pieces to try and mend a broken world of people who are traveling their last road.
I took the pieces you threw away and put them together by night and day. Washed by rain, dried by sun, a million pieces all in one. Off the Map - A look into backyard paradises created by visionary artists around the world. Like all southern fundamentalists, Finster believed in the apocalypse as foretold in the book of revelations.
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An awareness of time running out was always present in his work. Shortly after its release he said: "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!
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