Synopses & Reviews
The Reverend Howard Finster was twenty feet tall, suspended in darkness. Or so he appeared in the documentary film that introduced a teenaged Greg Bottoms to the renowned outsider artist whose death would help inspire him, fourteen years later, to travel the country. Beginning in Georgia with a trip to Finster's famous Paradise Gardens, his journey of which The Colorful Apocalypse
is a masterly chronicle is an unparalleled look into the lives and visionary works of some of Finster's contemporaries: the self-taught evangelical artists whose beliefs and oeuvres occupy the gray area between madness and Christian ecstasy.
With his prodigious gift for conversation and quietly observant storytelling, Bottoms draws us into the worlds of such figures as William Thomas Thompson, a handicapped ex-millionaire who painted a 300-foot version of the book of Revelation; Norbert Kox, an ex-member of the Outlaws biker gang who now lives as a recluse in rural Wisconsin and paints apocalyptic visual parables; and Myrtice West, who began painting to express the revelatory visions she had after her daughter was brutally murdered. These artists' works are as wildly varied as their life stories, but without sensationalizing or patronizing them, Bottoms one of today's finest young writers gets at the heart of what they have in common: the struggle to make sense, through art, of their difficult personal histories.
In doing so, he weaves a true narrative as powerful as the art of its subjects, a work that is at once an enthralling travelogue, a series of revealing biographical portraits, and a profound meditation on the chaos of despair and the ways in which creativity can help order our lives.
"Driven by painful memories of a schizophrenic brother who had visions and turned to Christian fundamentalist thinking, Bottoms (Angelhead: My Brother's Descent into Madness) sought out religious outsider artists, hoping to discover whether artistic expression helps relieve the suffering of visionaries who hover between madness and ecstasy. He writes thoughtfully of his quest, which takes him first to Georgia to visit Paradise Gardens, a four-acre Christian art environment replete with biblical quotes and apocalyptic predictions created by the late Rev. Howard Finster. In South Carolina, Bottoms interviews William Thomas Thompson, a paralyzed ex-millionaire who was inspired by an apocalyptic vision to paint a 300-foot mural called 'Revelation Revealed.' In Wisconsin, the author calls on painter and sculptor Norbert Kox, once a member of the Outlaw biker gang and now a born-again Christian who lives in an abandoned store and creates savage critiques of organized religion. Although the art Bottoms sees is not to his liking, and the artists' politics are far to the right of his own, he presents sensitive vignettes. His poignant book, imbued with troubling thoughts of his brother's illness and his own uneasiness about his motives in seeking out marginalized artists, ends on a positive note: the creative process does indeed have life-affirming powers." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
“Greg Bottomss fascination with artists whose work can be considered either visionary—the expression of deep Christian faith—or deranged, fanatical, and morbid, stems in part from his own anguished attempts to understand where sanity and insanity meet. It is his haunting testimony of the search for this unfindable answer that makes The Colorful Apocalypse
so refreshing, its essays of discovery so open, attentive, and deeply compelling.”
"Economics, semantics and sociology percolate through Greg Bottoms' engaging and intermittently unnerving narrative… [But] despite the author's academic bona fides (he's an assistant professor of English at the University of Vermont) and his frequent nods to the likes of social anthropologist Clifford Geertz and writer Susan Sontag, his subject is personal. . . . Bottoms is impassioned, curious, relentless and angry, but never cynical, least of all about the power of creative expression to salve one's longings."
“If James Agee and Tom Wolfe were to cross their bare wires, the resulting flash would be The Colorful Apocalypse
. Greg Bottoms gets us deep inside not just the art, but the making, the visionary angst that drives these outsiders, these unassimilated originals. A savvy, but also deeply heartfelt, intensely searching tribute.”
“In The Colorful Apocalypse
, Greg Bottoms serves his readers as Joseph Conrads Marlow did in The Heart of Darkness
. The river Bottoms navigates is a flood of outsider art, its heart of darkness a torrent of pain, sorrow, anger, suspicion, and longing. Like Paul on the road to Tarsus, each of the artists Bottoms investigates or interviews has experienced a shattering revelation. The outcomes of their epiphanies are seldom benign: paintings that are hellfire sermons brim with dead babies, Satanic brides, and world-destroying conspiracies. Bottoms is our guide to an art that succeeds in making darkness visible. View this art—read this book—only if you dare.”Wisconsin Death Trip>
“Driven by painful memories of a schizophrenic brother who had visions and turned to Christian fundamentalist thinking, Bottoms (Angelhead: My Brother's Descent into Madness
) sought out religious outsider artists, hoping to discover whether artistic expression helps relieve the suffering of visionaries who hover between madness and ecstasy. . . . His poignant book, imbued with troubling thoughts of his brother's illness and his own uneasiness about his motives in seeking out marginalized artists, ends on a positive note: the creative process does indeed have life-affirming powers.”
"[Bottoms is] a writer who avoids the 'automatic and easy assemblage of facts' by digging below the surface of the story, who keeps writing until he's staring straight into the face of the only truth that is truly indisputable: his own."
"Bottoms is a sophisticated intellectual who does not condescend to, mock or patronise those he has chosen to write about."
"Greg Bottoms likes to take his readers places they'd never go alone: into the mouth of madness in his autobiographical book, Angelhead, and into the world of religion-fueled art brut in The Colorful Apocalypse. Traversing the Southeast, he meets artists and their followers with a strong belief in the Lord and an even stronger one in their artistic abilities. Bottoms is never disdainful of their naive work, but always has one eyebrow raised in surprise and light skepticism."
"The power of this always engrossing and sometimes brilliant book lies not in its general subject per se, but in the way Bottoms uses these outsider artists as a departure to explore the commonsensical ways we determine what's sane and what's mad. . . . Because he is such a good writer, Bottoms's words bring us as close as we should ever want to get to a lot of people . . . [who] possess very creepy hearts of darkness. For liberal blue-staters like me, for whom religious belief has been quieted to a soft background hiss while we strive to value reason over rapture, Bottoms's book is a stark reminder of the limits of rationality."
"The Colorful Apocalypse rings true. . . . [It] is a portrait of a particular kind of human experience snapped by a photographer whose lens is intimately focused."
“In TheColorful Apocalypse
, Greg Bottoms explores the frontier between inspiration and psychosis with the expressive power, the passionate fervor, and the faithfully unflinching honesty for which his work is deservedly known. This book is incisive, startling, and often genuinely moving.”
About the Author
Greg Bottoms is assistant professor of English at the University of Vermont. He is the author of Angelhead: My Brother's Descent into Madness, also published by the University of Chicago Press.
Table of Contents
THE FIRST NOTEBOOK
Visions from Paradise
THE SECOND NOTEBOOK
THE THIRD NOTEBOOK