Turner has spoken to her lawyer and been advised that because Finster was a public figure, she does not need permission from the estate to use his name. She also says that since none of Finster’s artwork is featured in the play, no clearance is needed. She has explained the play to a few representatives of Christian groups that have contacted her and says she would happily talk to Finster-Guinn if she called.
Finster-Guinn and her sister Thelma Bradshaw have also set their sites on Sherer, accusing him of lying, decrying his art as “porn” and “pedophile prototypical,” and even contacting Kennesaw State University, where he is an art professor.
Finster-Guinn disputes that her father actually befriended Sherer.
“There is a difference in an acquaintance and a friendship,” she told The Summervile News. “If Howard had made a difference in a young man’s life, that man would not have continued his . . . art. Howard Finster, a man of God must not be made a mockery of through his Paradise Gardens or his Christian image.”
Sherer has accused Finster-Guinn and Bradshaw of talking to KSU students and posting and making malicious remarks about him. On a Facebook post, Finster-Guinn says, “I have heard that his paintings include men having sex with boys. I believe that to be pedophile prototypical. In my opinion that is going beyond porn art. I thought people go to jail for that kind of stuff.”
Sherer says that Bradshaw called his boss at KSU, department chair Dr. Joe Thomas, and made derogatory comments about his work and sexuality. Thomas acknowledges the call and says Bradshaw remarked that Sherer should not be teaching children and that his work depicted men having sex with boys.
In an interview with GA Voice, Bradshaw at first denied making the call, but later admitted that she did.
“I told (Thomas) I do not believe someone like that should be teaching art to children,” she says.
Bradshaw also re-iterated the family had not given permission for the play to be written. Finster-Guinn did not return phone calls.
Sherer is frustrated with the controversy, especially since he is simply the subject of the play – and not its author.
“You don’t say those things (about someone) unless you have evidence,” he says. “I have never painted adults having sex, much less with boys.”
He is not sure how to handle the situation, but he does feel like he has been targeted by the family because he is openly gay.
“At this point, I simply want to be left alone,” he says. “I don’t want to catch the brick on the head.”
‘Both artists and both Southerners’
Sherer recalls meeting Finster-Guinn at Finster’s folk art garden Paradise Garden in Summerville, Ga., and says “she did not like me then.” He finds it ironic that neither Finster-Guinn nor Bradshaw have seen or read the play.
Sherer has displayed his art around the world and from 1992-1997 worked as the gallery owner of the Lowe Gallery. He has been with KSU for a decade and has always been out to his students and administration – and has never had any difficulty. In 2007, he started a scholarship on campus for openly LGBT art students.
Sherer’s artworks can be seen at www.robertsherer.com and purchased in Atlanta at Kibbee Gallery. Sales go toward endowing the Robert Sherer LGBT Scholarship.
Four times in his career, his work has been censored and attacked by conservatives. The first time his art raised a stir was in 1989, when, as part of his graduate school thesis project, he showed oil paintings of male nudes in female poses. After the fourth time dealing with censorship, he stopped painting male nudes.
“It is not glamorous being censored,” he says.
He feels that the scope of his art work – which he calls unconventional media – is broad. He acknowledges sexuality plays a part, but says male nudes comprise “maybe 10 percent” of what he has done.
According to the artist, when Sherer and Finster first met, Sherer was a gay, atheist punk artist set on suicide. They bonded at Paradise Garden. Sherer says that Finster, who passed away in 2001, was clear in his religious views but “it wasn’t a fire and brimstone thing.”
Finster made it a point to tell him he had “colored friends, a Jew(ish) friend and homosexual friends,” Sherer says.
Over a number of years, Sherer and Finster clicked, says Sherer.
“We were both artists and both Southerners,” he recalls. “I don’t think I changed him, but I hold him responsible for getting rid of the confusion from my youth. I stopped being so reckless. I finished my undergraduate degree and went to grad school.”
“Howard knew how to get me to look at life in a more joyous way,” he says. “During the AIDS crisis from 1983 – 1986, I had a lot of friends who tested positive and died. I started to live again.”
Even before the controversy, Sherer was reluctant to be featured in “Hidden Man.” He says he was approached by writing consultant Russell Blackmon to talk about Finster. Sherer thought Blackmon was doing research, but when Blackmon revealed he was considering a stage play, Sherer balked – and didn’t want to get involved.
But over time Blackmon convinced him to be a part of it. Blackmon took his notes to playwright Turner and piqued her interest, and she in turn conducted her own interviews with Sherer.
The main reason Sherer objected at first was that he feared Finster would be portrayed as a “simpleton redneck” and he would come across as a “limp-wristed queen.”
Having seen the play, he feels that the two men are portrayed positively.
Producing a play about Finster was never the plan – Sherer was always to be the main character, Turner says.
“It was about his coming out,” she says.
“Hidden Man” is about 45 percent real and 55 percent made up, she says. Although the Sherer character is referred to by name, Finster is a composite of two characters, the Reverend and the Stranger.
“There is no disrespect to Finster in the play,” she says. Turner does admit she is “horrified” at the comments Finster’s family have made about Sherer.
Although Finster-Guinn suggested she was going to contact churches and organizations, no protests have been announced. According to Bradshaw, she is not aware of any such activity and when she spoke to her sister over the weekend, “there was no conversation about a protest.”
Meanwhile, 7 Stages remains committed to the play and preparing for opening night.
“We are very concerned, but we are not backing down from the play at all,” says Faye Allen, co-founder and producing director.
Top photo: Malcolm Campbell-Taylor (above) plays gay artist Robert Sherer in ‘Hidden Man,’ a new play about Sherer’s friendship with folk art legend Howard Finster. Finster’s daughters have criticized the drama. (by Adron Farris)