Day Three- John McLaughlin- The Marvelous Void

It’s Day Three and I’m happy (and relieved because it’s a minimalist kind of day) to present…

John McLaughlin!

John D. McLaughlin
John D. McLaughlin

I didn’t know anything about John McLaughlin and when I delved into my research about him, I found out some wonderful facts about his life.  I also recognized his paintings and started to think that I wanted to have all of his works on my duvet covers on my bed. 🙂

John Dwyer McLaughlin was born in 1898 and died at the age of 77 in 1976.  He was an abstract American painter.  He mainly did minimalist and hard-edge paintings.  He lived primarily in California.

John McLaughlin, “Untitled,” 1951. Oil on Masonite. 23 3/4 × 27 3/4”
John McLaughlin, “Untitled,” 1951. Oil on Masonite. 23 3/4 × 27 3/4”
John McLaughlin "Untitled" Archival Digital Print (16"x20")
John McLaughlin “Untitled” Archival Digital Print (16″x20″)

McLaughlin was born in Sharon, Massachusetts.  His father was a Superior Court Judge and he had six siblings.  His parents instilled in him an interest in Asian art.  He served in both World Wars.  He was in the navy for World War I and served in the USMC as a translator in WWII.  He married Florence Emerson (a descendant of Ralph Waldo Emerson) in 1928.  They moved to Japan in 1935, where he studied the art and the language.  They moved back to Boston in 1938 where they opened The Tokaido, Inc. an art gallery that specialized in Japanese art and other Asian items.

McLaughlin started painting in the 30’s and had no formal art training.  He settled in California in 1946 and began painting full time.  During this time period, he was one of just a few American artists creating abstracts. McLaughlin’s work is characterized by a simplicity expressed as precise geometric forms, usually rectangles. His experiences in Asia were very important in developing his style.  Zen masters taught that spaces between objects (the “marvelous void”) could be more important than the objects themselves in facilitating meditation.

His paintings were also influenced by other artists.  He wrote: “With respect to my direct influences I must

Untitled (1952), by John McLaughlin
Untitled (1952), by John McLaughlin

stress my interest in 15th and 16th century Japanese painters. I have found comfort in some aspects of thought expressed by Malevitch, and I am indebted to Mondrian because his painting strongly indicated that the natural extension of Neo-Plasticism is the totally abstract.”

In 1952, he ceased using curves in his work.  He described his artistic philosophy: “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 benefit of a guiding principle. I must therefore free the viewer from the demands or special qualities imposed by the particular by omitting the image (object). This I manage by the use of neutral forms.”

John McLaughlin's #26 (1961)
John McLaughlin’s #26 (1961)

Let me just first express how excited I was when I saw the letter “M” next to John McLaughlin’s name…according to my insane spreadsheet key, “M” meant minimalist artist.  Piece of cake right?  Not really.  Geometric shapes of all different sizes started appearing on the canvas.  I decided to sketch out something simple, yet appealing in my notebook.  Most of my combination of shapes seemed stunted and didn’t…for the lack of a better word, “flow” correctly on the canvas.

It's just shapes and color blocks!  What's the big deal?
It’s just shapes and color blocks! What’s the big deal?

Well, finally I found a pattern that I liked and here it is.  I will never quite think of minimalist art as easy art again.  

Finished piece.   Untitled 1- Linda Cleary 2014- Tribute to John McLaughlin
Finished piece.
Untitled 1- Linda Cleary 2014- Tribute to John McLaughlin

As I painted this piece, I felt a sense of calm.  The simplicity of the shapes was soothing and I enjoyed

Red!  Yes, red...
Red! Yes, red…

spreading even layers of paint across the canvas.  I stepped back and smiled. 🙂  Thank you John McLaughlin for a thoroughly enjoyable day.  Can’t wait for my next

Side view- Untitled 1- Linda Cleary 2014
Side view- Untitled 1- Linda Cleary 2014

minimalist artist day.

Still wondering if I should've put a circle in there...
Still wondering if I should’ve put a circle in there…and maybe I should’ve used masking tape!
Untitled 1- Linda Cleary 2014- Tribute to John McLaughlin- Acrylic
Untitled 1- Linda Cleary 2014- Tribute to John McLaughlin- Acrylic

Day FOUR, here I come!




  1. Love it! I spent some time working at the Asian Art Museum in SF, where I picked up some lay people’s knowledge about the Japanese aesthetic around negative space and asymmetry and the Zen qualities (whatever that means) of visual art. It’s so interesting to see a Western artist like McLaughlin adopt those principles — that also calls to mind the I Ching work John Cage did — but why the hell not?

    • That’s awesome! I was definitely fascinated about this guy’s history and what inspired him. Empty space is definitely a marvelous void. Enjoyed painting this today!

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