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February 13, 2007 > Former professor returns to Ohlone in art retrospective

Former professor returns to Ohlone in art retrospective

By Julie Grabowski

Art is an inextricable part of Ohlone College history, reaching back to when the college first opened in the Serra Center off Washington Boulevard in 1967. A campus gallery quickly followed the founding of the art department, put together by its two professors Tom Harland and David McLaughlin. What was called the Ohlone Art Gallery held residence in a few different buildings over the years before its installation in the Smith Center about ten years ago. When Franklin L. Louie and wife Jean Meager Louie donated a large sum of money to the college, the art gallery was renamed in their honor.

The gallery serves as a teaching tool for students and the surrounding community, offering guest artist lectures, seminars, and workshops in addition to museum quality shows. The goal is to put on 15 shows per year of formal as well as informal art in a variety of mediums and subject matter. Past exhibits have included folk art, experimental photography, and the very well attended shows on tattoo art and skateboard art. The gallery also hosts a juried student show every spring.

The current exhibit is a homecoming for one of their own, former professor and gallery co-founder David McLaughlin. "The Artist's Compass is in the Eye" contains 51 chronological pieces spanning over 40 years of creative work, beginning with McLaughlin's Masters Degree work in 1967 to the present. Most of the artwork is on loan from family, friends, or patrons. "This is the best work that I could get a hold of," says McLaughlin.

McLaughlin's introduction to art and early instruction came from a cousin who was living with his family while attending the San Francisco Art Institute in the 40s. He remembers being fascinated with the crayons, pencils and other art materials given him to play with when he was just five years old. "I've always wanted to express myself through art," says McLaughlin, though his singular interest and habitual daydreaming as a boy made life a bit difficult. "I had to work harder than most kids to get by," he chuckles. He attended the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, and taught high school for six years in his hometown of San Leandro while earning a Masters Degree from San Francisco State University. McLaughlin was among the first faculty members of the newly established Ohlone College, where he started the art department and served as its first professor teaching Art History, Drawing, and Painting.

McLaughlin is primarily a watercolor artist but works in a variety of mediums including oil, acrylic, and airbrushing. He calls watercolor demanding and unforgiving because once the first stroke is made, there's no going back: it can't be wiped off like oil and begun again. When asked why he doesn't keep to one form, McLaughlin says you have to use the best vehicle for the idea. "It depends on subject, how I'm feeling about it." His subjects, like his mediums, are wide-ranging. He has traveled the world during sabbatical and summer breaks finding inspiration in the rural landscapes of New England, the mythology of Greece and the Mediterranean, the Italian countryside, and the culture of Japan.

An eye catching example of myth intersecting with locale can be found in a watercolor triptych done in 1991 made up of "Ionic Ozone," "Theseus and Ariadne at Delphi with Imperial Lily Centerpiece," and "Oracle's Tholos with Spanish Bayonet and Divination Vessel." Also notable are his explorations of personality as seen in the personal still-life paintings done for his family members. Scenes are composed using meaningful personal objects that represent that person's life, creating a portrait of experiences and memories. In "Silver Anniversary" painted for his wife in 1986 McLaughlin reveals himself as an inkwell, his piano playing wife as a page of music on a table set with other storied objects. Flowers and chairs are repeatedly seen in his paintings, as well as the use of a black background warning that nothing lasts forever and all earthly beauty and objects must be left behind. His fascination with weather is also documented in a collection of airbrushed works.

McLaughlin also paints murals and commissioned pieces, saying that most of his money has been made through "working with people on a personal basis." Artwork that is personal and individualistic is of prime importance for McLaughlin. As a teacher he showed students how to interpret a subject in different ways so that it might become their own, not simply match some preconceived acceptable idea of what it should be. Artists need to respect their own style, he says. "Art is individualism, not some follow the leader stuff." And that simple fact is what makes art important and appealing. "It's individual," repeats McLaughlin. "It's one of the most valuable expressions of human spirit that you can still find."

There will be a reception for David McLaughlin on Wednesday, February 21 from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. followed by an Artist Talk from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

For upcoming shows or more information call (510) 659-6176 or visit

David McLaughlin: A Retrospective
"The Artist's Compass is in the Eye"
January 26-February 27
Noon-3 p.m.
Louie Meager Art Gallery
Ohlone College
43600 Mission Blvd., Fremont
(510) 659-6176
Free admission

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