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Stranger in Paradise

In 1976, at age 60, Rev. Howard Finster saw the perfect human face in a drop of paint on his finger, and heard a voice commanding him to “paint sacred art.” Half a century later, the late Finster (d. 2001) is one of America’s most recognizable outsider artists: Among other achievements, he created award-winning cover art for albums by the Talking Heads and R.E.M. Now, the Akron Art Museum appreciates him as a painter in his own right with the exhibition Stranger in Paradise. Like a William Blake of the pop art era, Finster’s oeuvre juxtaposes religiously laden illustrations arising from his vivid visionary experiences with more worldly subjects of attention. Bearded messiahs and contemporary faces grin with innocence, warmth, and cake-batter softness — all while framed within dense Biblical quotations and religious pronouncements. Angels fly side-by-side with rockets, and the King of Memphis makes an appearance beside the King of Kings. In Finster, we see someone striving towards holiness while keeping hold of his humanity. The result is pure pleasure.

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