John McLaughlin attended the University of Hawaii, but was largely self-taught as an artist. In 1935, McLaughlin traveled to Japan to study the language in order to gain a greater understanding of Japanese wood block prints. He remained in Japan for several years before returning to the United States. In 1941, he resumed his study of the Japanese language while serving in the United States Army. In 1943 he was stationed as a major in the Japanese language section in the China-Burma-India theater.
McLaughlin started painting in his spare time in 1938; in 1946 he was able to devote all of his time to painting. His first solo exhibition took place at the Landau Gallery in Los Angeles in 1953. McLaughlin is associated with fellow artists Karl Benjamin, Lorser Feitelson, and Frederick Hammersley; the four artists called themselves "Abstract Classicists" in a 1959 exhibition organized by the San Francisco Museum of Art. McLaughlin died in Dana, California, in 1976.
National Museum of American Art (CD-ROM) (New York and Washington D.C.: MacMillan Digital in cooperation with the National Museum of American Art, 1996)