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John McLaughlin Paintings: Total Abstraction

John McLaughlin Paintings: Total Abstraction

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles
Through April 16th

Article by Cathy Breslaw

John McLaughlin’s paintings are more about empty spaces than what is visible. An astute student of Japanese painting, McLaughlin sought to investigate the void, the “ma” as the Japanese describe it. He favored the work of the 15th-century Buddhist monk Sesshu Toyo, whose paintings he often viewed at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston where McLaughlin grew up.  A self-taught artist, McLaughlin began painting at 48 years old, once he moved to Dana Point California in 1946. McLaughlin has come to be known as one of the most important southern California artists of the post world war II era.

Rather than pursuing the abstract expressionist movement which dominated post-war painting, McLaughlin carved his own path. He was an innovator of hard-edged abstraction and the 52 easel-sized paintings, collages and drawings included in this exhibition prove that out.  The geometric lines, bars, and other rectangular shapes in this collection of paintings appear to be used as markers, as ways of directing the viewer to observe the more essential empty spaces, rather than the objects.  These highly disciplined, carefully planned reductive works also play with figure-ground relationships using limited color palettes.

Towards the end of his career, McLaughlin limited his use of color to blacks, grays, and whites. He deemed this work the best of his paintings.  The light-filled rooms at the Broad building along with carefully placed chairs (designed and built by artist/designer Roy McMakin) create meditative and peaceful opportunities to contemplate and ‘fall into’ the spaces of McLaughlin’s paintings. In his own words, McLaughlin explains his work: “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…This I manage by the use of neutral forms.”

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Installation photography of John McLaughlin Paintings: Total Abstraction at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Sunday, November 13, 2016 – Sunday, April 16, 2017) photo © Museum Associates / LACMA
(Artwork on loan from the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego)

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