Posting Date: February 24, 2012
“Hidden Man” chronicles early life of KSU art professor
Associate Professor of Art Robert Sherer is the subject of a new play
By Shira Zobrist
Howard Finster (left) and Robert Sherer in the 1980s
Robert Sherer working at Paradise Gardens
photo credit: Robert Poss, 1983
When Associate Professor of Art Robert Sherer was a young man in the early 1980s he unexpectedly found himself in the company of a north Georgia folk artist and minister named Howard Finster. Their unique and complex relationship is now the subject of the new play “Hidden Man.” Written by Pamela Turner with Russell Blackmon and directed by Del Hamilton, “Hidden Man” premiered at the University of Georgia’s Cellar Theatre in Athens on February 23. The play will begin its run in Atlanta at 7 Stages Theatre on March 8.
Sherer was introduced to Finster through a mutual friend and art dealer. They immediately clicked over their similar backgrounds. Both were artists from Alabama, they were new to the art world and they shared an interest in nature and folklore. After visiting Paradise Gardens, Finster’s art haven in the Northwest Georgia mountains, Sherer almost immediately made plans to return and stay longer.
Sherer and Finster lived and worked alongside each other for many years. Finster had an undeniable influence on both Sherer the artist and Sherer the man. “Howard taught me to be proud of my country upbringing and to use my southern quirkiness as a source of individual expression. I gained a lot of self-confidence from him.”
Finster also served as a type of father figure to the young Sherer, at a time when he greatly needed a positive influence in his life. As Sherer recalls, “I was very nihilistic and desperately needed the mentoring from an older man. I was angry, morbid and depressed. He kept me so busy and engaged with living that I unknowingly developed the skills to deal with my depression.”
“Hidden Man” focuses on this pivotal time in Sherer’s life. Blackmon first approached Sherer in 2008 for a series of interviews about his time with Finster at Paradise Gardens. After a year of interviews, Sherer learned that Blackmon was working on a play based his experiences.
Sherer was surprised to learn that he, rather than Finster, would be the focus of the play. “I told Blackmon that Howard was a wonderful subject for a play and then he told me that the play was actually about the dramatic transformation in my life that resulted from my relationship with the reverend.” After that, Blackmon handed over the materials to Pamela Turner, who wrote the play as a "southern gothic coming-of-age tale." It is based on what Sherer calls the “most surrealistic period” of his life, and, therefore, the more surreal scenes are the ones closest to the truth.
Sherer refers to the play as “an artistic interpretation of a difficult time” in his life and wants the audience to learn from his tough experiences. “I hope that audiences will see the importance of diversity and how very different people can enhance one another’s lives if they focus on their commonality and not emphasize their differences. I hope they realize that this one precious life is all that we will ever know. When things get dark, look for the dancing lightning bugs.”