September 24, 2015

After My Father Died, I Painted My Grief

By John Brendan Guinan

Edward Guinan, a former priest who founded D.C.’s largest homeless shelter.

Edward Guinan, a former priest who founded D.C.’s largest homeless shelter.

Last December, my beloved dad passed away peacefully in the Palisades, NW Washington, D.C. I was holding his hand, gazing into his eyes as he took his last breath. As I sat there, time stood still and I felt a sense of grace, strength and calm that I had never felt before.

Painter John Brendan Guinan

For those that didn’t know him, my father, Ed Guinan, is my hero. He was an activist, author and lecturer who saw injustice in the world and sought to change it.

In the 1970s, my father founded the Community for Creative Non-Violence and opened Zacchaeus Soup Kitchen and the Zacchaeus Medical Clinic, serving the city’s hungry and homeless for over 30 years. He also authored the Statehood Initiative, which D.C.’s voters overwhelmingly approved in 1980, setting in motion a legal process advocate for statehood.

After he died, his Washington Post obituary read:

“Throughout his life, [Guinan] earned a place on the Catholic left defined by the pacifism of Dorothy Day, the civil disobedience of Daniel and Philip Berrigan and the faith-driven calls of former Peace Corps director Sargent Shriver to replace peace through strength with strength through peace.”

I’m a painter and my new show “The Art of Mourning” is comprised of pieces all grieving my father’s passing. Each piece was painted while my father was either sick, in hospice and recently passed. I never intended to share these particular paintings with strangers, but the experience of creating them became transformative. My hands, brushes, paint, and pallet knives served as conduits for other emotions: joy, despair, gratitude, transformation, grace and other undefinable inklings of subconscious. Through great pain this art came out of me. It simply had to.

Mother, Father, Holy Ghost - John Brendan Guinan

Mother, Father, Holy Ghost includes a 10,000-15,000-word “stream of consciousness” written about my father: “I love you dad, please watch over me, hug me, do you see me dad, are you here with me, protect me, guide me, are you proud.”

Ascension - John Brendan Guinan

Ascension is the last piece completed for the “Art of Mourning series.” I like to think of “Ascension” as the focal piece of the series. There are six vibrant yellow and gestural brush strokes ascending to the top of the piece. There are many 6s in my pieces, which I often use to represent my family: Kathleen, Sarah, Tim, Matt and my dad. My father is represented by a gestural yellow brush stroke up top, perched above all of us. I want viewers to feel a sense of hope, comfort and transcendence when engaging with it.

My father lives here - John Brendan Guinan

My Father lives here was one of the first paintings completed for the series while my father was sick in the hospital about a month before he passed away. Underneath the overlay of white, teal and black is a minimalist piece with a color schema of orange, blue, black and white. This underlay, has what I consider my father’s masterwork, an essay called “If We Listen Well” written in meticulous script. The piece is representative of the idea that when we die, though our physical bodies may no longer be of this earth. Our message and what we lived for is still very much alive. The deep and violent pallet cuts into the canvas revealing the colors beneath represent me digging to remember my father.

Sunless Horizon - John Brendan Guinan

Sunless Horizon was completed some months after my father’s passing. It is a calming and fairly meticulous and representational piece unlike many of the others. The piece represents the idea that though the life force of the sun may not be visible to the eye we have an innate sense that it will rise.

Immortal Etching - John Brendan Guinan

Immortal Etching is a physical, process oriented piece. I squeegeed blues and whites as a backdrop and violently scraped away paint with my pallet knife. The piece represents a struggle with not being able to grasp the the unknown. I think that this is a universal emotion – and when we confront what lies ahead after this life it is daunting, frustrating and scary.

All images courtesy of John Brendan Guinan. View “The Art of Mourning” series, curated and sponsored by LATELA DC | Local Art Community and Fine Art Gallery, at Homme DC at Anacostia Arts Center September 24th – November 19th.

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