Tom LaDuke’s “You’re like me,” 2010, references David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet.” Oil and acrylic on canvas over panel, 75 x 100 inches. Image courtesy of Angles Gallery.
Tom LaDuke’s paintings at Angles Gallery are like a really great New Romantic song from the 80’s. They evoke a sublime experience in populist fashion, with a lowly airbrush filling in for an electronic beat. LaDuke finishes his pieces off with a little slap of makeup on the surface (the way Adam Ant would), et voila!, beauty and love are all around.
LaDuke’s paintings strive for the extraordinary in a globalized art world, didactically sampling from art history’s finest examples. Combining the melancholy secularism and supernatural quality of Caspar David Friedrich with the mundane, obsessed practice of Gerhard Richter, they are beautiful fucking paintings!
Tom LaDuke’s “Young Love,” 2010, references the Swedish pre-teen vampire film “Let the right one in.” Oil and acrylic on canvas over panel, 45 x 60 inches. Image courtesy of Angles Gallery.
Conceptually the paintings find resonance in Jean Baudrillard’s brash view of contemporary social oppression via electronic media,forming what the theorist refers to as “soft violence”. LaDuke clarifies this postmodern attitude of being stuck on the television screen and ferociously self-effacing. The background gray sub-surface of his painting field mimicks the reflection of an old black-and-white TV. LaDuke’s virulent act is further illustrated by the throwing of paint across a shallow façade, where he’s somehow able to turn chunky, passionate strokes into gestures that evoke the composition of Jan Van Eyck’s “The Arnolfini Wedding.” The deftness of these moves in the limiting media of paint re-asserts a superhuman quality latent in Western culture, where the painter endeavors an idea just beyond the grasp of human hands.
Tom LaDuke’s “Lovelorn,” 2008. Oil and acrylic on canvas over panel, 60 x 80 inches. Image courtesy of Angles Gallery.
Within the context of contemporary cultural glut, LaDuke becomes a form-based deejay. Mix-mastering from art’s greatest hits, he simultaneously presents a postmodern aesthetic symphony and reifies our mortal existence. That there is nothing new here doesn’t make his work unexciting. On the contrary, it reminds one of just how titillating a great big, juicy, old-fashioned painting can be. The commitment he’s made to his craft is the same kind of contribution Karl Lagerfeld has made to the house of Chanel, mostly in homage. His innovation comes in the recontextualizing of beauty, making his elegant and romantic works palpable to even the most cynical critic. LaDuke is simply one of Los Angeles’ greatest living painters. As Coco Chanel once famously said, “simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance.”
Ori Gersht’s “Falling Bird” (video still). Image courtesy of Angles Gallery.
Also compelling is the video entitled Falling Bird by Ori Gersht in the rear gallery, adjacent to LaDuke. Falling Bird is based on the composition of a Chardin painting, where Gersht has oddly combined the elements of technology and academic painting. The subject matter is far more exciting than one might expect via a tumultuous, sensual experience of gas bubbles and rich black water in slow motion. Innovative and fresh, the artist seems to be positing a technological future where emotion itself is a protracted exercise like easel painting. Here the viewer is invited into a painting and allowed to see the water, as a bird hanging from his feet might. To extend my metaphor from the LaDuke show, a comparison of Gersht to Alexander McQueen is in order. Gersht’s work is similarly intense and operating from a point of view beyond the ordinary. Angles has pulled out the stops with this pairing, truly owning their new space and wiping out this Jet Setter’s memory of the previous tenant.
This post was contributed by Mary Anna Pomonis.