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Close encounter with Howard Finster


Los Angeles artist Scott Waterman is one of my flickr buddies. His paintings are swirling, rhythmical portrayals of hard-edged city infrastructure (wires, poles, lights)overlaid with decorative patterning that’s delicate, ebullient and organic. Scott is a lively, knowledgeable and opinionated commentator on flickr. One recent comment about Howard Finster I just have to share. It followed my posting on Adam Wallacavage’s book Monster size Monsters which included a nice photo of Howard Finster taken by Wallacavage in 1994. Scott commented he’d been there–at Howard Finster’s place — in 1978, and that Finster didn’t take credit cards. I asked him to tell me about it.

Did you talk long with him (Finster) in 1978?

Scott: He was a preacher so he did the talking. This was before a lot of his notoriety and the curiosity seekers. I was living in Atlanta at the time and had a friend from Cave Spring (which is close to Summerville) and somehow she discovered him. Anyway we’d gone up sometime in the afternoon and stayed until late in the evening. He had a bed in his studio that we all sat on, listening and sometimes trying to stay awake. We’d start to make excuses to leave and he’d start up another train of thought.

Howard Finster
Elvis Presley by Howard Finster

His stories were fantastical. Henry Ford, the baby Jesus, and flying saucers would all be in the same sentence. He had solutions for all the big problems that beset mankind. He was a very sweet man. I gave him some of my work –snakes painted on cutout plywood and he gave us a bunch of his paintings on paper. They were sort of (ab-ex) experiments on old printed matter. (He ran a small press at one time.)

Scott Waterman
Here’s a painting by Waterman, 143. For me it conjures up a scene on the Santa Monica pier….fireworks, hot dogs, ferris wheel and the spray of the ocean.

Actually I remembering a lot more but I’ll just mention one more tidbit. My Georgia friend and I happened to be in New York when Howard had his first show at Phyllis Kind Gallery in SoHo. We attended the opening which was packed. His work looked great hung in the center of the art world. Howard gave another of his long rambling talks until Phyllis gave him the hook.