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JOHN MCLAUGHLIN

(1898-1976)

Minimalist Painter

by Theresa Bellagamba

John Dwyer McLaughlin was an American abstract painter. He is considered one of the initiators of minimalist and hard-Edge painting. McLaughlin developed an appreciation for Asian art. Zen masters taught that spaces between objects are more important than the objects themselves in facilitating meditation.




Table of Contents

I. BIOGRAPHY

Born on May 21 1898 in Sharon, Massachusetts to superior court judge John Dwyer McLaughlin and wife Harriott Attwood McLaughlin, John Dwyer McLaughlin was one of seven children. While growing up, his parents showed an interest in art and fostering John’s interest in Asian art, supplemented by numerous trips to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts with its extensive collection of Asian art. His mother’s uncle, Gilbert Attwood, had a large collection of Japanese objects that he received from the many Japanese students he hosted, and these objects were eventually given to McLaughlin’s mother. McLaughlin’s education and exposure to Japanese culture are some of the early influences that began to shape his personal interests and profoundly affected his professional choices later in life.

Following his childhood interest in the art of Asia, McLaughlin was able to travel abroad and provide service to his country, while fostering his language skills and his knowledge in the art, culture, and philosophies of Japan. McLaughlin served in the United States Navy from 1917-1921 during World War I. He married Florence Emerson from Wakefield Massachusetts in 1928 and sold real-estate in Boston and Chicago during the 1930s. Then the couple moved to Japan in 1935 and McLaughlin studied Japanese art and language, which was a rare opportunity for an American during this time.

Upon returning to Boston in 1938, McLaughlin and his wife opened an art gallery called The Tokaido, Inc. Here they sold Japanese prints and imported objects from China and Japan. McLaughlin studied Japanese at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu in 1941 and continued his service to the United States as a language officer translating Japanese for the US Marine Corps until 1942. McLaughlin became involved in intelligence in China, Burma, and India, winning the Bronze Star for meritorious service in 1945.

McLaughlin and his wife moved to Dana Point in Southern California where he became one of the few American abstract artists. He began painting later in his life, not until 1938 as a self-taught artist, never receiving any formal training. His many experiences, working with Japanese and Japanese-Americans, traveling abroad, and viewing Chinese and Japanese works of art, all further developed the philosophy of life that would be the driving force behind his paintings.



UNTITLED
ND
22" x 30"
oil on paper
Exhibited: The LA That Influenced My Eye

This work, which was exhibited in 2003 at Sullivan Goss as part of a show curated by noted collector Barry Berkus, features the highly refined geometry and subtle color relationships which characterize the artist's best work. The confrontation of neutral gray with bright yellow supports the artist's interest in provoking the viewer into contemplation.

II. ANALYSIS OF THE ARTIST'S WORK

McLaughlin did not start painting until late in his life. Other than a very small number of early still-lifes and landscapes, his work is characterized as abstract and part of the West Coast hard Edge style. He used ready made stretchers and most of his paintings were oil on canvas, composition boards, masonite, or fiberboard. He focused on composition, scale, and color relationship. His formal process of painting was to first make a drawing of the composition at scale where he could first play around with the forms and composition, showing the importance of the formal arrangement. McLaughlin’s color palette consisted of black, white and gray, as well as and primary and earth colors to create geometric forms on the canvas.

McLaughlin’s first exhibition was in 1952 at the Felix Landau Gallery in Los Angeles. His earliest works reflect modern abstract art of Europe from the early twentieth century. McLaughlin was greatly influenced by Modern artists Kasimir Malevich and Piet Mondrian who both wanted to achieve larger ideas though simpler forms on a canvas. Malevich (1878-1935) was a Russian Suprematist/Constructivist who created non objective, abstract work. Malevich’s aim was to free artwork from the representational world since he saw objects in the objective world as meaningless and he rather believed feeling to be of paramount importance in the expression of art. Mondrian (1872-1944) was a Dutch painter whose works became known under Neo-Plasticism and non-objective art. His thoughts connected religion, art, and philosophy and they expressed the idea that meaning in an artwork can only be translated by lines, angles, primary colors, and black and white. McLaughlin’s philosophies differ from those of Malevich and Mondrian because his art is not an expression of true reality, but rather he employs similar Constructivist formal techniques to create a dynamic space and bring the viewer into the picture to participate in an actual event taking place in time (Catalogue. John McLaughlin. Felix Landau Gallery Jan 29- Feb 17, 1962).

McLaughlin created bilateral paintings with symmetry on the left and right sides of the canvas using vertical and horizontal rectangles. By creating a work that is completely abstract, McLaughlin strove to interact with the viewer and show the relationship of man to nature, without telling them what to think. McLaughlin’s use of neutral forms is designed to free the viewer from the restraints and demands that are imposed by an image. McLaughlin states, “My purpose is to achieve the totally abstract. I want to communicate only to the extent that the painting will serve to induce or intensify the viewer’s natural desire for contemplation without the benefit of a guiding principle” (Catalogue. John McLaughlin. Felix Landau Gallery Jan 29- Feb 17, 1962).

His paintings express a void and simplicity and are composed of geometric forms, most often rectangles. His work in the 1950s and into the 1960s shows an even greater reduction. Increasing simplicity characterize his later works. McLaughlin wants the viewer to think about their own relationship with nature and he does not present just one truth or way of thinking. The art of Japanese Literati painting of the 14th and 15th centuries greatly influenced the development of his philosophies and the artistic ends to which he hoped to meet. The ideas of Sesshu 1420-1506, a Japanese ink painter who showed nature in an abstract way, are reflected in McLaughlin’s works. In an introduction to a show for the Pasadena Art Museum, McLaughlin talks about the empty space in Japanese art and describes the space he creates in the words of Sesshu as the “Marvelous Void.” McLaughlin constructs his works to free the viewer and allow them to find their own identity. Contemplation and self awareness were important feelings that McLaughlin hoped people could aspire to and achieve through his artwork. McLaughlin was radical in his ideas by using formal abstract elements as a way to contemplate nature and ones own place in time and space, and posing ideas for other American artists to expand upon and explore.

III. COLLECTIONS

  • Addison Gallery, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA
  • Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo, NY
  • Ameringer and Yohe Fine Art, NY
  • Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, ME
  • The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
  • Daimler Chrysler, Berlin
  • Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, NY
  • Gary Snyder Fine Art
  • Inverleith House, Royal Botanical Garden Edinburgh, Scotland
  • Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, NB
  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art
  • Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach, CA
  • Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, TX
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA
  • Mead Art Gallery, Amherst College, Amherst, MA
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
  • Miami Art Museum, Miami, FL
  • Museum and Art Gallery, Stanford University, Stanford, CA
  • Museum of Modern Art, NY
  • National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.
  • Oakland Museum of Art, Oakland CA
  • Pasadena Museum of Modern Art, Pasadena, CA
  • San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego, CA
  • San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
  • Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CA
  • Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery
  • Tobey C. Moss Gallery
  • University Art Museum, University of California, Berkeley, CA
  • University Art Museum, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM
  • Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT
  • Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City, NY


  • JMD-3
    c. 1962
    22.125" x 30"
    oil on paper
    Exhibited: The LA That Influenced My Eye

    In JMD-3, the artist has removed all color. As with the works of Franz Kline or Ad Reinhardt, the absence of color focuses the attention on the remaining forms. Unlike his Abstract Expressionist forebears, however, McLaughlin placed no importance on the gesture. These works reflect the cool "LA look" aesthetic of Los Angeles in the 1960s.

    IV. AWARDS

  • Visual Arts Awards for individual artists by the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities, 1946
  • Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC bronze medal, “Thirteenth Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting”
  • National Council for the Arts and the Humanities, $5,000 award in painting and sculpture
  • Tamarind Fellowship Artist, $1,000 grant, 1963
  • V. SOLO EXHIBITIONS

    Solo Exhibitions

  • 1953 Felix Landau Gallery, Los Angeles
  • 1955 Downtown Gallery, NYC
  • 1956 Pasadena Art Museum
  • 1958 Felix Landau Gallery, Los Angeles
  • 1958 University of California, Riverside
  • 1960 Long Beach Museum of Art, CA
  • 1960 Felix Landau Gallery, Los Angeles; University of California, Riverside
  • 1962 Recent Paintings- John McLaughlin, Felix Landau Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
  • 1963 Felix Landau Gallery, Los Angeles
  • 1963 Retrospective Exhibition- John McLaughlin, Pasadena Art Museum, CA
  • 1964 K. Kazamir Gallery, Chicago
  • 1966 Eight New Paintings, Felix Landau Gallery, Los Angeles
  • 1968 Occidental College, Los Angeles
  • 1968 Landau-Alan Gallery, New York
  • 1969 John McLaughlin – Retrospective Exhibition 1946-1967, Corcoran Gallery, Washington D.C.
  • 1971 John McLaughlin – Recent Paintings 1970-1971, University of California, Irvine
  • 1971 Recent Paintings by John McLaughlin, Nicholas Wilder Gallery, Los Angeles
  • 1973 Paintings by John McLaughlin, Corcoran and Corcoran Ltd., Coral Gables, FL
  • 1973 John McLaughlin – A Retrospective Exhibition, La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art, CA
  • 1974 John McLaughlin, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
  • 1974 Recent Paintings, Andre Emmerich Gallery, New York
  • 1975 Recent Paintings, Felicity Samuel Gallery, London
  • 1976 Paintings 1949-1974, Galerie Andre Emmerich, Zurich, Switzerland
  • 1978 Prints and Paintings, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • 1979 Late Work, Nicholas Wilder Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
  • 1979 John McLaughlin – Paintings 1949-1975, Andre Emmerich Gallery, New York
  • 1979 Late Work, Nicholas Wilder Gallery, Los Angeles
  • 1979 Paintings 1949-1975, Andre Emmerich Gallery, New York
  • 1981 John McLaughlin: Black and White, Galerie Andre Emmerich, Zurich, Switzerland
  • 1981 John McLaughlin: Paintings, 1950-1975, Annely Judya Fine Art, London
  • 1981 Quadrat Bottrop- Modern Gallerie, Bottrop, West Germany
  • 1981 Galerie Mueller-Roth, Stuttgart, West Germany
  • 1982 John McLaughlin, Selected Paintings, James Corcoran Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
  • 1982 John McLaughlin: Paintings 1951-1974, Andre Emmerich Gallery, New York
  • 1982 John McLaughlin, Ulmer Museum, Stadt Ulm, West Germany
  • 1983 John McLaughlin: Paintings 1951-1966, Gatodo Gallery, Tokyo, Japan
  • 1985 Late Work, Gatodo Gallery, Tokyo
  • 1985 Thomas Babeor Gallery, La Jolla, CA
  • 1987 Paintings of the Fifties, Andre Emmerich Gallery, New York
  • Group Exhibitions

  • 1949, 1950, 1954-60 Painting and Sculpture Annual, Los Angeles County Museum
  • 1950 California State Fair, CA
  • 1951 Contemporary Paintings in the United States, County Museum Los Angeles, CA
  • 1955 Art in the 20th Century, San Francisco Museum of Art; Pasadena Art Museum, Pasadena, CA
  • 1955 Third Biennial, Sao Paulo, Brazil
  • 1955 Pacific Coast Art, Cincinnati Art Museum, Ohio; Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis, MN
  • 1955 Painters of Los Angeles, The Downtown Gallery, New York
  • 1955 Corcoran Biennial, Washington D.C.
  • 1956 Pacific Coast Art, Cincinnati Art Museum; San Francisco Museum of Art; Walker Art Center; Minneapolis
  • 1956 15 American Painters, Long Beach Museum and Tour
  • 1957 Sphere of Mondrian, Institute of Contemporary Art, Houston, TX
  • 1958 American Painting, Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia
  • 1959-1960 Four Abstract Classicists, Los Angeles County Museum; San Francisco Museum of Art; Art Institute of Contemporary Art, London; Queens College, Belfast, Ireland
  • 1960-1961 Purist Painting, toured by American Federation of Art
  • 1962 Geometric Abstraction in America, Whitney Museum of Art, NYC
  • 1962 Fifty California Artists, toured by Whitney Museum of American Art NYC
  • 1962 Artist’s Environment: West Coast, Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas
  • 1965 The Responsive Eye, Museum of Modern Art, New York (toured USA)
  • 1967 30th Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
  • 1969 Seven Decades, Addisson Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA
  • 1970 West Coast 1945-1969, Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, NB
  • 1970 American Painting 1970, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. VA
  • 1970 Studio Marconi, Felix Landau Gallery, Milan, Italy June 15
  • 1971 11 Los Angeles Artists, Hayward Gallery, London (toured Britain)
  • 1974 Geometric Abstraction, University of Nebraska, Omaha (toured U.S.A)
  • 1975 Color as Language, International Circulating Exhibition, Museum of Modern Art
  • 1977 Los Angeles Hard-Edge Exhibition, Los Angeles County Museum of Art
  • 1977 California: 5 Contemporary Art Galleries, Lytton Halls, Los Angeles County Museum
  • 1979 Art Inc., American Paintings from Corporate Collections, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery Alabama, traveled
  • 1979 Black and White are Colors: Paintings of the 1950s-1970s, Galleries of the Claremont Colleges, Pomona College and Scripps College, Claremont, CA
  • 1981 Art in Los Angeles: Seventeen Artists in the Sixties, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA
  • 1984 A Decade if American Painting: 1960-1969, Daniel Weinberg Gallery, Los Angeles
  • VII. BIBLIOGRAPHY

    1. 1. John McLaughlin. Felix Landau Gallery Jan 29- Feb 17, 1962
    2. 2. John McLaughlin A Retrospective Exhibition, Pasadena Art Museum Nov 12- Dec 12, 1963
    3. 3. Eight New Paintings by John McLaughlin, Felix Landau Gallery Los Angeles Feb 28-March 19, 1966
    4. 4. John McLaughlin Retrospective Exhibition, The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. Nov 16, 1968 – Jan 5, 1969
    5. 5. John McLaughlin Paintings from the Early Fifties May 11 – June 6, 1970 Felix Landau Gallery , Los Angeles, CA
    6. 6. John McLaughlin Recent Paintings – 1970/1971 University of California, Irvine
    7. 7. John McLaughlin Retrospective Exhibition, Museum of Contemporary Art, La Jolla, CA July 7 – Aug 12, 1973
    8. 8. John McLaughlin Recent Paintings, Andre Emmerih Gallery March 30 – April 17, 1974
    9. 9. John McLaughlin Paintings 1949-1975, Andre Emmerich Gallery Sept 11- Oct 3, 1979
    10. 10. John McLaughlin Paintings 1950-1975, April 14- May 23 1981, Annely Juda Fine Art, London
    11. 11. Abstract Painting as Surface and Object, Hillwood Art Gallery, School of the Arts, Long Island University, Feb 13 – March 8, 1985
    12. 12. Alice Trumbull Mason and John McLaughlin, Two Decades: 1950 & 1960, Washburn June 18- July 31, 1986
    13. 13. John Mclaughlin: Paintings of the Fifties introduction by Prudence Carlson, Andre Emmerich Gallery Feb 5-28, 1987
    14. 14. John McLaughlin Paintings of the Seventies, Andre Emmerich Gallery Nov 10- Dec 3, 1988
    15. 15. Who Was Who in American Art 1564-1979 Vol. III
    16. 16. Larsen, Susan. John McLaughlin, Western Modernism, Eastern Though: Essays Distributed Art Publishers, 1996
    17. 17. Selz, Peter, Abstract Classicism Reexamined
    18. 18. Joslyn Art Museum. Paintings and Sculpture from the European and American Collections. University of Nebraska Press, Omaha, Nebraska
    19. 19. Four Abstract Classicists, San Francisco Museum of Art; Los Angeles County Museum

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