Monday, October 24, 2016

Ginsberg and Howard Finster, 1988: '..the door to the other world is to step through your shadow'

Ginsberg at Paradise Garden, 1988
Although Allen Ginsberg and Howard Finster made something very personal of their respective art, they both found a path to larger truths made of the small things. The charming photograph of Ginsberg at Howard Finster's Paradise Garden, above, reveals a great conjoining of art and the soul.
At the Allen Ginsberg Project there's a nice remembrance of their 1988 meeting in Pennville, Georgia. Ginsberg was quick to see Finster's personal universe in creative terms, but thought Howard's vision was constricted. As he later told interviewer John Turner, Ginsberg was puzzled "how the grander scope of his visionary insight became solidified to the more limited notion of  Christ, Heaven and Hell."
Allen told Turner that he liked Howard's artistic consciousness and confidence as an artist, "like Blake had with those imaginative projections ... For example, the phrasing on his one particular tower ("Castle of Words") has  '..the door to the other world is to step through your shadow'. That is somewhat Blake-ian." But ultimately, Ginsberg tells Turner, " ... there is an old Buddhist phrase, 'If you see something powerful, don't cling to it. If you see something beautiful, don't cling to it.' Emptiness is the grand palace. There is no Heaven and Hell. Howard seems to be clinging to his visions, so there is an element of the shadow of evil."
There's lots more in the post at the Ginsberg Project page, including art, photos, and links to an exhibit for a Finster centennial celebration at the Taubman Museum in Roanoke, VA that runs until February 2017.

Here's an included excerpt at the Project page from John Turner's 2009 article in Raw Vision magazine, "When Allen Ginsberg Met Howard Finster":  

JT: I curated a retrospective on the work of the Reverend Howard Finster for the Museum of American Folk Art in 1989. The poet Allen Ginsberg came to a pre-opening party of the exhibition for a "meet and greet" with the artist. He told me that he had been down to Paradise Garden in Georgia a few years earlier, but that Howard wasn't giving sermons to visitors that day, He said that he enjoyed seeing the artwork in the Garden, took many photographs and bought a Finster cut-out in the gift shop. He asked me if I could introduce him to Howard and I said, "Sure, my pleasure". He then motioned me to the side of the room, where we continued our conversation. He said, "I want you to introduce me as a homosexual. Tell him that I was born that way". He went on to tell me that several of is friends who were familiar with Finster's work thought that he was anti-gay and that in some of  his paintings he had written that AIDS was God's revenge for homosexuals. Now the stage was set in a way that I hadn't anticipated and potential trouble was brewing - it was up to Finster to give a good or bad "performance".

 I brought Allen up to the table where Howard was signing exhibition posters and motioned to him that I wanted him to meet someone. I knew Howard well enough by then (having written a biography on him) to know that he was impressed by celebrities (from wrestlers to politicians) even if he didn't know who they were.So I said, "Howard, this is a famous poet. He writes poetry, like you do. His name is Allen Ginsberg. He is a homosexual. He was born that way". Howard turned his head away very slowly and paused for what seemed an eternity and then looked directly at Ginsberg and said, "What is, is". 

A smile came over Ginsberg's face and he said, "I'm glad to make your acquaintance. Can I take a few pictures of you?" ...

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