Art in America

July, 2005

Tom LaDuke at Angles

Constance Mallinson

Tom LaDuke alternates between painting and sculpture, handling both mediums with equal technical skill, and attains a comparable sense of existential drama in each. Here he showed five large-scale paintings and four sculptures (all works 2004).

In his landscape paintings, LaDuke creates vast atmospheric voids with thin strips of land at the lower edge. These low horizons contain an array of degraded Southern California landscape elements: crisscrossing high-tension power lines, milelong warehouses, office parks and studio lots, thousands of pinpoint headlights. As a counterpoint to the manmade landscape, we catch an occasional glimpse of silhouetted mountain peaks and treetops. Most of the paintings are executed in military enamel on aluminum, their exquisite details precisely rendered in fine pencil and water-color. The great skies are shrouded in smoky, matte tones of dark mocha, cocoa or gunmetal grays, representing night, fog, smog or infinite space. Reminiscent of the Northern European landscape tradition with their melancholic, engulfing voids and near abstraction, they create a portentous mood verging
on the apocalyptic.

Rife with detail and art-historical reference of a different sort is the sculpture Self-Inflicted Burden, an almost 3-foot-tall, hyper-realistic, miniature self-portrait made of silicone, hydrocal and mixed mediums. LaDuke is depicted shirtless, clad in sweatpants and slippers, and holding a pellet gun with which he has just shot himself in the arm-an inexact homage to Chris Burden’s famous 1971 performance (Burden’s wound was not self-inflicted). But the exhibition’s tour de force was Hours of Operation, a table-mounted labyrinth of open-topped rectangular boxes containing close to 300 meticulous resin castings that, in sum, compose LaDuke’s entire body. Reiterating the extended white warehouses in the paintings, the boxes’ exteriors are outfitted in scale-model fashion with miniature pipes, antennae, roll-up doors and light fixtures. The anatomy is stated in maximum detail: waxy, translucent skin tones of a deathly pallor, folds and wrinkles, pimples and body hair. In the same way that the paintings reduce the landscape to a bleak, commercial environment, the dismembered body here is subject to the geometrical coffins of consumer warehousing.