If Michael Guinane’s paintings seem familiar, it’s for good reason: Many of them show archways spanning across wide streets — visual shorthand for Columbus’ Short North. But the avenues are filled with figures wearing dark suits or flowing white dresses. The archways above these figures from a bygone era connect viewers to Columbus’ past, evoking what Guinane calls timeless nostalgia.
“It kind of takes you to another world. ... Without being idealistic, it’s kind of like a fantasy, but it was real,” he explained.
To find inspiration for his paintings, Guinane leafs through turn-of-the-century photographs he finds in archives and historical society collections.
“I’m just fascinated by going through these old pictures. I was never a photographer, so I find a way to translate that,” he said.
Guinane layers sepia or silver tones of water-based paint, then wipes and blends them, revealing the layers beneath the surface. This creates depth, but also softens sharp edges in a way that’s reminiscent of a blurry, old photograph.
The figures in Guinane’s work are more like silhouettes than individuals: Each person is an equally important part of the larger scene. Guinane frequently mixes figures or buildings from two different eras, further blurring the line between past and present.
“It works because you never really know what’s happening and what is there,” he said.
A native of Milwaukee, Guinane moved to Columbus in 1996 to study at the Columbus College of Art and Design.
“There’s so much history here. It’s fun just learning more, and then showing people,” he said.
Early in his career, Guinane wanted to tell specific stories through his works. Over the years, his approach has changed.
“I think my work has developed into something where the viewer takes what they want out of it, as opposed to me trying to tell them what I want it to be,” he said.
Guinane’s works are shown regularly at Sharon Weiss Gallery and Barcelona, the restaurant in German Village. He said he enjoys Columbus’ large and vibrant arts community.
“There’s constantly new things popping up. This is a community where, everywhere you go, you meet other artists and art-lovers,” he said.