Recent Acquisition | John McLaughlin's "Untitled"
Untitled, 1963, lithograph, 33 x 30 inches, edition of 15; Signed, dated and numbered, lower margin
Immediately following the Second World War, John McLaughlin began steadily producing some of the most thought-provoking and wholly unique artworks to come out of Southern California. His spare, clean abstractions composed mostly of rectangular shapes with crisply defined edges stood in sharp contrast to the prevailing style of the bold and gestural Abstract Expressionists. Distinctly original, his work predates that of the so-called Minimalists whose styles and concerns would later be quite similar to his own.
Although McLaughlin’s work can also be understood as descending from early abstractionists including Piet Mondrian, perhaps his greatest influence was Far Eastern aesthetics. Prior to the Second World War, he studied Japanese language while traveling in the region and he dealt in Chinese and Japanese antiques in Boston before moving to Southern California. His first encounter with East Asian artwork led him to believe, “I could get into the pictures and they made me wonder who I was. Western painters on the other hand tried to tell me who they were.”
McLaughlin sought to take everything out of his artwork except that which was absolutely necessary to generate an aesthetic response, saying, “The work itself does not represent or symbolize anything.” Their unassuming, resolutely two-dimensional beauty is meant to inspire contemplation. Although they may appear simple, these works richly repay concentrated looking. The issue of meaning is left open-ended and should be completed by the viewer, while the viewer’s involvement in this act becomes a part of the artwork itself. He also thereby instills a Far Eastern sense of tranquility and meditation into his creations.
In 1962 after receiving a grant, McLaughlin was invited to make prints with the storied Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles. His first engagement with printmaking, McLaughlin created prints very much like his paintings. These flat rectangles of unmodulated color that are held in tension by the unprinted parts of the paper are surprisingly confident works for an artist new to lithography. Creating only 20 prints in his lifetime, they were exhibited at Felix Landau Gallery in 1963. During that same decade he would greatly influence artists of the California Light and Space Movement, such as James Turrell, while today his work is held in the collections of LACMA and The Whitney Museum among others.