Here in New England: Brendan Loughlin
In the days following 9/11, Guilford’s town green fills with American flags. Brendan thinks, “We need to have balance, need to show joy, too — that we still believe.” He hauls a slab of plywood, big as a refrigerator, in front of a florist shop at the edge of the green and paints sunflowers — vibrant, luxuriant sunflowers — and people drive by, honking and waving. MaryLou Fischer, who owns one of Guilford’s leading galleries, is moved by how people react to Brendan’s work, and she wants to see more. Soon the gallery’s walls are covered with Loughlins, and the people of Guilford and beyond come in and buy, one after the other.
Brendan becomes Guilford’s artistic Johnny Appleseed. Along the streets of Guilford, on shop doors and gates and fences bordering the green, Brendan plants landscapes that sprout everywhere — sky, ocean, great ripples of flowers, as if he’s thanking the town that embraced him. “Anything that doesn’t move, I’ll paint it,” Brendan says. “Primitive, joyful, emotional — I think that’s the best way to describe my work. I want to stop people in their tracks. You can’t walk downtown Guilford and not be stopped in your tracks.” Wherever Brendan walks in the village, people call his name.
Autumn 2007. Brendan is 66. His hair is white, his trousers are still tattered, covered in paint; he’s as buoyant as a golden retriever. Around him on this patch of parking lot, beside a popular café called Tastebuds, a clutch of people have gathered, as they do most days, men and women of all ages, to paint under Brendan’s coaxing eye. Everyone, it seems, wants to paint with Brendan. “I never had an art lesson,” he says with amazement today, “and here I am teaching people, some with four years of art school.”
He’s convinced he has created a new art form the world will embrace, if only the world knew about it. He calls it Pastac, a blend of pastels and shellac, and now he has learned that by adding the tints used by commercial painters he can create exotic, rich, compelling colors. He says it’s his mission now to bring it to others. “There’s such an elitism and fear about painting,” Brendan says. “People say, ‘I can’t paint.’ My goal is to show people they can. There’s no other form of painting like this. One day we’ll see painters everywhere using acrylic, oil, pastel, and Pastac. I know it will happen.” He starts his mission here, in Guilford, and in nearby towns, a few painters at a time.
One of his students looks up from her painting. “The whole thing he preaches to us,” she says, “is ‘Never worry. Paint without fear. You can fix it.’ This is amazing. You feel you’re doing something wonderful with Brendan.” Brendan gushes about a recent class: “This woman, she was on fire. How she worked the brush! She couldn’t believe it, and when her husband came, he couldn’t believe it. Yesterday may have changed that girl’s life! Pastac is the only painting method I know where you can’t make a mistake. It takes away fear of failure.”
Brendan is in his apartment at the south edge of the green. Canvases, some complete, others in progress, poke out from everywhere. He allows himself just a few square feet of kitchen space; everything else is for painting. I haven’t held a brush for nearly half a century, yet here I am. Brendan gives me a jar of B-I-N. He hands me pastels and small tubes of tints. I abhor my firsttentative attempt. I’m self-conscious. I paint over it with the white B-I-N, and my crude strokes vanish. I start again. This, I see, is Brendan’s finest gift to Guilford. So many people who own his paintings, who study with him, knew him when he lived on sardines from the food bank, when he curled up in his daughter’s car on frosty nights, when he was everyone’s eccentric local artist. He shows them every day that you can make your life a breathing canvas, and sometimes if the will is strong, you can wake up one day, paint a sunflower bursting with hope, and start over.
Many Guilford-area galleries show Brendan Loughlin’s work. His studio at 79 Whitfield Street is usually open, as well. “Just come in and holler,” he says. This winter, Pastac will reach a national audience: Pastac kits will be marketed by Sheffield Bronze (sheffieldbronze.com), and T.J. Maxx stores nationwide will feature a limited collection of Brendan’s art through January.