Los Angeles

John Mclaughlin

Felix Landau Gallery

One of the elder statesmen of West Coast geometric painting continues his sparse, right-angle subdivisions in eight recent canvases, and viewed against recent reductive or minimal developments his pioneering development may be more justly considered and fully admired. Since 1958 he has explored the particular possibilities of vertically or horizontally oriented bilateral symmetry, involving broad areas and delimiting margins or frames. Gradually increasing his format size, he has, since about 1961, concentrated on the generous but comfortably manageable proportions of four by five feet. In size then, he adheres to a traditional easel scale.

Also traditional, the paintings are eminently handcrafted in their precision: ruled pencil marks remain, the pigment is brushed and palette-knifed (black however is stained). The dense and solid colors therefore rest well into the surfaces’ structure. The canvases are taped and/or painted, wrapping the design around the edges, implying an objectness but certainly finishing the canvas in its own terms.

Based in Malevich, Mondrian, and perhaps more directly Nicholson of the early ’40s, his works are spartan and distinguished in consistently avoiding a prime motif or the obvious sensuousness of a warm hue. Fluctuating interchange of strict hard forms and the insistence on contrasting values or three-step value gradations of limited color direct a prime consideration upon clarity of arrangement. Black, white, or a seemingly warm medium light grey are offset by a pale olive, or a light or fully intense greenish blue, and a stark bright yellow. Thus half the color wheel, from pure blue around to yellow-orange is strictly rejected. McLaughlin avoids easy excitation of the retinal cones, preferring instead the subtle adjustment of implied warm/cool contrasts through value. His is clearly a Mondrian-like system of intuitively arrived at weights and measures.

Each canvas is a fresh reinterpretation of previous projects: four set up a left-right consequence of viewing, one involves enframing rectangles, in two the voidal field is banded at the bottom, and in the most remarkable, 16-1965, black is closed at the top and bottom by a strip of white. They are contemplative objects: at one time laconically inert and significantly spatial, dryly frosted and cooly arid, clinically puritan and highly independent.

Fidel A. Danieli