I literally stumbled upon Michigan artist John McLaughlin's work online. I remember being immediately stunned by his use of simple forms and fragmentation. As of this writing, I have about a dozen of his works on paper. He's very talented. Read on and find out why he calls himself and his website www.drawinghermit.com "drawing hermit."
MICHAEL: Hi John. I have to say that I love the mixed media works on paper that you're doing right now. To me, they're like disparate material fragments put together to create some sort of composition that comes across as very innocent, almost childlike. Is this what you're going for?
JOHN: Hi Michael. I work without any pre-planned intention or idea, letting my subconscious guide me. In this way, I try to keep my left brain from intruding, which is always trying to make the work more formal and traditional. My child-like scribbles are combined with more highly finished drawing and collage elements to create abstract works that still retain references to natural and man-made objects. I do see the drawings as fragments and I have titled a few with this name. I don't know if this is because my mind wanders like this or because I have a short attention span that I jump from one object to the other. I have no interest in creating something that I know what it's going to be when I'm done. So it's often difficult for me to explain the meaning in my work. Some of my collectors have enlightened me on their observations.
MICHAEL: The fact that you don't have preconceived notions and don't get caught up in the "meaning" of your work is thrilling to me. As you know, practically everyone from collectors to scholars are obsessed with ... "What does it mean?" Are you saying that you create just for art's sake? If so, this seems quite liberating and revolutionary to me. That alone seems meaningful.
JOHN: I really don't know the meaning of most of my work. I do what I call backward drawing. I put marks on the paper then I just sort of see what appears on the paper, and then I merely fill in the spaces or outline the form. I read a book awhile ago, I can't recall the name, but it was about seeing. It said that some people have the ability to look straight ahead with their eyes open and see a triangle, a few less people can see the triangle change colors and even less can see in revolve and very few can see multiple triangles in different colors revolving in different directions. I always thought everyone could do this. Sometimes I can see different objects and not really want to. So, most of my drawings are filling out the forms seen. I know it sounds a little hokey, but that is the way I work. I don't consider it anything special. Collectors of my art will tell me all kinds of things they see in the work. From human figures, both pornographic and poetic forms, to plants and nature, to all kinds of animals. Even some I have no idea what they're talking about. I never disagree with them. I think this is the best aspect of my art, letting people form their own thoughts and ideas about the work.
MICHAEL: This really feeds into the notion of art as Rorshach test. You know, art reveals more about us than it does about itself. Still, as you mentioned, you work in various media and genres. Why do you do this? Is it just to keep yourself interested and engaged?
JOHN: I think abstract art definitely reveals more about the artist than representational art. I do work in various media. I think it's because I like the change and challenge. For years, I had my own darkroom and did black and white photography. I feel this is where I established myself with composition and shading. But I also love color, so I would always paint pictures in a more abstract expressionist style. My paintings now are more of a fragmented (back to the fragments) type of markings, drawing and painting on a neutral colored background. I always find it difficult to express what category my work would fit into. It's kind of many different styles combined, but sometimes these different styles are separate, but presented in the same work.
MICHAEL: Are you a trained artist and is your work influenced by any noted abstract expressionists of the past?
JOHN: I am a self taught artist. I don't believe you can teach anyone to be an artist. All you can do is encourage someone to be themselves, supply the means, and give support (buy their art). I am influenced by and admire so many artists both past and present. It would be difficult to narrow it down to a few ... Although there is a Matisse masterpiece in a nearby museum I wouldn't mind having in my living room.
MICHAEL: Your website is called "drawinghermit." Are you really a drawing hermit? Doesn't this feed into stereotypes people have about artists?
JOHN: I really am a drawing hermit. Being extremely hard of hearing, I don't venture out very often into social situations. I am content to draw and paint all day ... me and the dog and cat. I think people might view artists this way because most art is not created in groups. It seems necessary to make art alone. I think the majority of people have a distorted view of modern art and artists. We come in all sizes and shapes and personalities. We are the observers. It may not be fun, but it is all we can do.
MICHAEL: What do you think can be done to correct the distorted view that the public has of contemporary artists?
JOHN: Well, that's a good question. It sure helps having people out there like you writing about artists. I think art museums are slowly changing how they present and inform the public on their collections. The traditional galleries still have a way to go before the general public feels comfortable with them. I also think the internet art scene is helping because people can now interact directly with artists through email and blogs. For me, the interaction with collectors is the most satisfying aspect of my art.
MICHAEL: I totally agree. Finally John, what's your hope for yourself and your work as the art world evolves? Is it fame and riches?
JOHN: Fame and riches would be great, but in reality, in the future, I would like to secure a good gallery or two for representation. It has been difficult for me to find a good fit as my art is a little different than most. This would free up some of my time to work more and market less. I'm sure that is every artist's dream. Other than that I am looking forward to where my art will take me, it's always full of surprises. I want to thank you Michael for the interview and for your support and encouragement to so many artists.
MICHAEL: Thank you John. I love your work. That's why I have quite a bit of it and will continue to collect it.
For more about John McLaughlin and his work, visit his website at www.drawinghermit.com