McLaughlin and the blowfish

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Elizabethtown artist inspired by Japanese marketing

By Becca Owsley

Dick McLaughlin is an artist inspired by color and the images he discovers emerging from the canvas as he paints.


Originally from Massachusetts, costal waves and sunsets inspired some of his landscape and seascape work, he said. For five years he used pastel paints, but the dust bothered him so he switched to oil painting.

He met his wife, Verna, in Boston in a pottery class. Along with painting, McLaughlin also enjoys sculpting, writing poetry and photography.

Vera is from Elizabethtown and the couple later moved back to the area to care for her parents, McLaughlin said, quick to add praise for Vera’s talents, especially her culinary skills.

In 2003, he took a trip to Japan that changed his painting pallet. He was influenced by the colors in Japanese marketing campaigns. He began working with bright colors and created a line of Fugu paintings.

The Fugu are puffer or blowfish, McLaughlin said. Their spiky bodies fill up with water as a defense mechanism so they cannot be swallowed. He said they inflate when they are anxious, which is about half the time because something’s usually trying to eat them.

Although they are toxic, the Japanese love to eat them after they prepared by a specially trained chef, McLaughlin said.

After his trip he began a series of paintings featuring the Fugu. He has T-shirts and a page on Facebook promoting the Fugu World Tour. He suggests people buy the shirts then post photos taken in the shirts around the world. He has pictures from the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Indonesia, Ethiopia and most of Europe.

He would love to tour his artwork around the world but that’s too expensive, so he created the Fugu World Tour T-shirt instead.

McLaughlin got the world tour idea from the Western Kentucky University towel that alumni take around the world. He’s hoping to somehow geotag the photos on Facebook someday to map where shirts have been.

He paints each Fugu’s eyes and mouth last so he never knows what personality will develop until he is near the end of a painting. Each one is named based on their colors and personality. “Orange Peek-a-boo,” “Enigmatic Fugu,” “Three Green Fugu Lost In Space,” “Fugu with Pink Tiny Dancers,” and “Fugu with Dust Bunny Fish” are just a few of the names of the paintings.

He recently had a show in downtown Elizabethtown with fellow artist Jon O’Brien called “The Fugu and the Owl: ‘Here’s Looking at You’.” O’Brien’s work consisted of a series of owl paintings.

He’s now working on a new art show focusing on how light hits the surface of water.

McLaughlin likes abstract expressionism and said some of his work looks like covers for science fiction books, a genre he liked as a kid.

During the week, McLaughlin works at the University of Louisville as an admissions counselor, recruiting students to study at U of L and work at UPS. He loves his job and traveling to college fairs and conferences.

McLaughlin has made many friends at the events. He often takes his harmonica to have jam sessions with fellow admission counselors.

For now he does most of his painting on the weekends but said when he retires his studio will see a lot of action.

He hopes to host a participatory art festival some day in Elizabethtown called Fugu-fest where people can make their own Fugus. Events like this give a social aspect to art, which is often a solitary life, he said.

He might include a walk or run with the festival to raise money for a cause.

To check out the Fugu World Tour go to www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Fugu-World-Tour/133915206622519.

Becca Owsley can be reached at (270) 505-1741.