Tom LaDuke - T Magazine

Abstract Paintings That Combine French Philosophy, 3-D Software and Hieronymus Bosch

By Janelle Zara

When Tom LaDuke recounts his artistic process, it can be a challenge to keep up. The L.A.-based painter and sculptor’s thoughts are a rapid-fire game of connect the dots that catapults from the depths of art history to personal memories to various degrees of existentialism.

“In Lacanian theory, putting an idea in parentheses kind of murders it; it loses its life, because it’s been removed from its context,” LaDuke explains, referring to one of the new paintings he’ll unveil at “Candles and Lasers,” his first solo exhibition at L.A.’s Kohn Gallery, which opens tomorrow. “French Cemetery,” 2015, is dotted with pansies, rainbows and the vague outline of his late father’s Cadillac, all of which somehow relate to France, death and the 20th-century psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan’s philosophies on it. Yet on the surface, this meaning gets glossed over — literally — by a cotton-candy palette and a reflective sheen. Amorphous bubblegum figures float above a blurred, nebulously dark backdrop that turns out to be a painstakingly accurate reproduction of Manet’s “The Dead Toreador.”

LaDuke’s work unfolds in layers below the deceptively sugary surface. Each of these new paintings begins with an accurate reproduction of some familiar work of art, redrawn in soft focus using an airbrush. Foggy fragments of Bosch’s 16th-century classic “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” faithfully redone at the same 153-by-87-inch scale, show through the sunny landscape of LaDuke’s “Chain.” John Singleton Copley’s 1778 painting “Watson and the Shark” has been relegated to the muted backdrop of the beautifully composed “The Depths and the Shallows.” From there, the original subject matter informs the noise on the surface: abstract representations pulled from an endless stream of ideas, rendered in a CMYK palette of acrylic paints, the 3-D graphics software Blender and the occasional bright smattering of glitter. The sparkling bright blue trail that meanders through “Chain” actually mimics the path inside Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, a ride that subtly dictates at all times exactly where the viewer is to direct his gaze. “It’s the same with a gallery or an art museum,” says LaDuke. “They are telling you how to look.”

Borrowing the standard contents of an art museum for “Candles and Lasers,” LaDuke asks that you look again, or “re-recognize what you thought you saw.” Or not. On its own, the disarming candy coating reads as beautiful, abstract painting; the dense philosophical theses below are the extra treat.