Tyler Green: Modern Art Notes
March 12th, 2008

Tom LaDuke, to be explained on Thursday

Tyler Green

Consider this morning’s post something of an introduction.

The reason Californians think about light is because it changes so often.

We notice light the way someone from the suburbs notices the traffic on the way into work.

In the morning, the fog comes on little cat feet, and the light in Malibu or Brisbane is gray, muted, and leaden. By noon it burns off, impacting the light all the way back out to the Pacific Ocean. Maybe a little bit of fog sits in the inland valleys, muting the sun’s effects, dampening color like a partial eclipse. (The California impressionists loved this light. See best-I-could-find examples here,here, or here.)

In Los Angeles they get a different kind of mid-day light, the kind that Richard Diebenkorn painted from Main Street in Santa Monica, or the kind off of which Larry Bell riffed in his boxes. As I posted this morning, there’s the way Robert Irwin has played with LA light in work he’s been making since the late 1960s, light that he reproduces with his discs or with scrims. And, of course, what Carl Sandburg was to fog, Lawrence Weschler is to LA’s light.

So finally to Tom LaDuke, whose take on LA’s light is as perceptive as any contemporary painter of whom I can think. In LaDuke’s paintings LA’s light has the consistency of drizzling cream, of something that occludes and holds onto light. There are days when I’m in Southern California when I feel like the light is so tactile, so physically present that it forms a womb around me. That’s the light that LaDuke paints with suffused brilliance.

Sure, LaDuke paints the other stuff that makes up the Southern California landscape. At the bottom of many of his paintings you see buildings. They remind me how relentlessly horizontal Southern California can be, especially compared to older cities such as New York or Chicago. Sometimes, through the bisquey mist of LaDuke’s paintings, a mountain is visible off in the distance. (Or maybe it’s quite near.) But regardless of what’s around the margins, Bonnard-style, LaDuke’s paintings are about what he sees around him. And what he sees first and most is light.

LaDuke is not a hip painter. He’s in a few museum collections — the Guggenheim, MOCA, MCASD and the Orange County Museum of Art, whose Ice Age (2002) is above. He’s rarely included in group shows, in part because painters don’t fit the profile for what curators want to do with splashy exhibitions these days. He’s never shown in New York, which says more about the endlessly provincial NYC scene than anything else. But his paintings are terrific. I’ll feature another one tomorrow.