los-angeles

John McLaughlin

Laguna Art Museum

John McLaughlin started painting in his forties. The son of a Massachusetts Superior Court judge, he served in both world wars and when not in uniform was in business. A Japan specialist for American military intelligence during wartime, a part-time dealer in Japanese prints afterward, he was sufficiently drawn to Japan to move there in 1935. Perhaps it was inevitable that he would come to be seen as an artist who brought Japanese thought to bear on Euro-American painting, and this is the view that curator Susan C. Larsen promotes in her catalogue essay for this retrospective in part by way of Clement Greenberg, who is reported to have said of McLaughlin: “There is something oddly Oriental at work here.”

But given that nonobjective painting began in Russia, a culture already both Western and Eastern, I wonder whether what most commentators seem to mean by “Oriental” should be seen as “odd”

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