Ben McLaughlin: A List of Destinations


Ben McLaughlin’s anachronistic paintings are small windows into enigmatic worlds. This exhibition, representing the British artist’s West Coast debut, includes approximately 20 new paintings ranging in size from 12 x 9 inches to 16 x 24 inches.



The title of the exhibition, A List of Destinations, refers to a box of vacation brochures and travel books belonging to McLaughlin’s father, incidentally collected over a period of years. As a child, McLaughlin was captivated by the wealth of vicarious journeys they provided. Rediscovering them as an adult, he was struck by their visual redolence to art historical precedents such as Romantic paintings and Chinese and Japanese watercolors and woodcuts. Here were countless pictures of figures in landscapes, seemingly awed by their surroundings. Interspersed with the splendid locations were more mundane shots of hotels, pools, and transportation.


These juxtapositions of the banal and the magnificent seemed to represent more than just vacations, and the ephemeral nature of the booklets lent them a particular poignancy. The boldly printed dates of their issue announced that these anonymous every-men and -women, dressed in their mid-twentieth century suits and starchy leisure-wear, had survived the most brutal war in history, and that their Kodachrome-captured sightseeing and sunbathing was concurrent with revolutions, assassinations, and the crumbling of empires. “I have ever since been intrigued by this variable, shifting gap between depictions of ordinary experience and recorded history – multiple realities that describe a moment,” says McLaughlin.


McLaughlin’s resulting paintings are, at first glance, unassuming and conventional – representations of places, some populated, some not. Some show figures in elusive surroundings, or an occasional still life. But although appearing familiar, the places are non-specific and artificial. It’s unclear what the inhabitants are actually engaged in, if anything. These disconnected individuals are often on the edge of something, be it geographical or temporal: caught in some kind of Limbo. McLaughlin’s imaginary worlds are pictorial compounds – potentially humorous or unsettling tangles of the once real and the imperfectly remembered, framed through their titles by the date of their manifestation and a corresponding context from that day’s news.



Ben McLaughlin was born in 1969 and received his degree from Central St. Martin’s School of Art (London). He resides in London. The Paintings of Ben McLaughlin, a monograph published by Merrell (2006) with an essay by James Hamilton, will be available for purchase.

Installation Views