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Here in New England: Brendan Loughlin

Here in New England: Brendan Loughlin
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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.

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4 Responses to Here in New England: Brendan Loughlin

  1. Kelly Schwark January 19, 2008 at 11:22 am #

    How inspiring! I too am at the point in my life where I want my art to be more than something that just sits in my closet. I appreciate his determination to pursue his desire. Without a degree behind me, I completely understand the intimidation and feeling of elitism of painting. BUT, as I will use his story to inspire me to never give up on my dream of creating a career from my art! Thank you for sharing this story with us! Sincerely,
    http://kellyschwark.com

  2. Marguerite Saunders February 12, 2008 at 8:56 am #

    I was sitting in my library in Middletown, NJ last Sunday, just hating the cold winter winds and snow squalls outside, and needed to rid myself of the cabin fever I was feeling. I am from New England ( Vermont ) and recently moved to NJ. so I am also in a new area trying to adapt to the new surroundings. I just wanted to read some fun stuff, so I chose Yankee Magazine for its familiar places inside its covers. I came across the article on Mr. Loughlin, and was totally inspired to pick up my favorite remedy for stress again, ART! His story was amazing, and had me welling up with tears with all his struggles of the past. I am thrilled he finally feels at home as an artist…I have had many of the same feelings…the feeling that I feel my art is trapped inside me, wanting to come out! I have been an ink artist for the most part, ( Very unforgiving medium ) so I was intrigued by this pastac combination as I read his article. I am going to buy the materials, and create something for the walls in my new house! Thank you Brendan…for sharing your incredible talents with us!

    Love & Light,
    Marguerite

  3. P D February 20, 2008 at 12:58 pm #

    I can’t celebrate someone who doesn’t pay child support.

  4. Lucyna Karas April 7, 2008 at 10:32 am #

    A BIG WOW to Brendan. This is the type of person I would like to meet. Someone who has emerged from next to poverty to find himself and his trade and give back.

    Amen to you, Brother,
    Lucyna

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