To complement the UCLAlHammer Museum of Art's showing of Sunshine & Noir - Art in L.A. 1960-1997 and to commemorate our twentieth anniversary, the Tobey C. Moss Gallery is mounting a series of exhibits on foundations of California Modernist history.
GORDON WAGNER (1915 - 1987), born and bred in California, wasn't always a beachcomber. He did attend Chouinard Art Institute and UCLA, earning a degree in engineering along with learning to paint. He worked in engineering design for aerospace industry for almost twenty years. However, he was a'travelling man', seeking out primitive cultures and ritual forms in Mexico and the American southwest. That, plus the lure of beach towns, waterlogged detritus and seedy amusement parks along California's coast, brought a surreality, strong 'nighttime' colors and gestural abstraction into his early paintings of the 1940s and, by 1950, the assemblage that replaced painting as his primary form of expression.
Among his early pieces are Seven Actors and the Mexican Night Clerk Shamanistic elements were incorporated into his formal art expressions, as is seen in Piece of Pieces From the Sea and The Devil Set the Castle on Fire.
Since the late 1940s Gordon Wagner has had one-person exhibitions in Los Angeles, Taos and Phoenix as well as Sweden, Belgium and Holland. Notable museum group shows were Ann Ayres' "Forty Years of California Assemblage" for the UCLA/Wight Art Gallery (plus Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha and the Fresno Art Museum) and Susan Ehrlich's "Pacific Dreams:Currents of Surrealism and Fantasy in California Art" at the UCLA/Hammer (and Oakland Art Museum and the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum in Logan, Utah). Ann Ayres commented "Mexican Night Clerk ... with its symbolic re-presentation of a specific human life, shares the sense of human traffic of Edward Kienholz's early tableaux."
Gordon Wagner's assemblages are witty narratives employing rusting gears, broken typewriters, oxidizing photographs, tattered embroidery, clock parts, keys ... anything deposited at the edges of the field or the city streets, washed up on the shore or lost in the desert. The unexpected juxtaposition of rich, nostalgic fragments combine story-telling, social commentary and aesthetic recycling. Scraps of personal musings collide within grids and boxes, inviting the viewer to playful - yet meaningful - exchange.
JOHN McLAUGHLIN (1898 - 1976) did not begin to paint until he was in his thirties. He was steeped in the philosophies of Japan and China and spent several years in Japan during the 1930s, returning to his native Boston as a dealer in Japanese prints and drawings. During World War II he worked as a translator in Japan, Burma and China. By 1946, he settled in Dana Point, California and returned to painting.
McLaughlin created abstractions, the early work displaying a broad palette and active forms - as in Untitled Oil on masonite c.1949. However, by 1950 he "neutralized' his forms, turning to geometric blocks of cool, flat forms and spaces primarily using black, white and taupe with occasional additions of yellow or other colors - as in Untitled #21 oil on canvas 1958. His painting surfaces are smooth, without reference to the brush or the gesture.
An aesthetic relationship between McLaughlin and Lorser Feitelson was recognized by curator Jules Langsner, bringing about the highly lauded exhibition "Four Abstract Classicists" at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1959, including Frederick Hammersley and Karl Benjamin. That show travelled to London where Lawrence Alloway, art historian and critic, renamed it 'West Coast Hard Edge'.
By 1953 McLaughlin was represented by the Felix Landau Gallery of Los Angeles, where he showed his work until the gallery closed at the end of the 1960s. Representation of his work passed to Nicholas Wilder Gallery, Los Angeles and then to Andre Emmerich, New York, as well as to galleries in London and Zurich. One-person museum exhibitions mounted included those at the Pasadena Art Museum, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, the University of Califomia, Santa Barbara and the Laguna Art Museum, spanning the period from 1963 to 1996.
His work contains impeccable structure, evoking serenity and a quietude - a cerebral character connected with Eastern thought. McLaughlin said of his work: "My purpose is to achieve the totally abstract. I want ... to intensify the viewer's natural desire for contemplation.." Yet, there is an expectancy - an asymmetrical symmetry - in the complex simplicity of his architectonic 'color forms'.
John McLaughlin's work and the assemblages of Gordon Wagner are mounted in parallel solo shows. Though the visual aspects of the works created by each artist appear to be antithetical to each other, they challenge the viewer in their shared complexities, monumentality, unpretentiousness and meditative qualities.