In the studio: Tom LaDuke


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You’d be hard-pressed to find a body of work more painstaking in its construction than that of Tom LaDuke. His last solo show, at Angles Gallery in January, included a replica of a wind-tossed plastic shopping bag made entirely from powdered graphite and glue, an 11-by-8-inch free-hanging “veil” that reproduced every crack in a particular 17th century Flemish painting using nothing but eyelashes and arm hairs, and a sculpture that appeared to be an ordinary bird feather but was made entirely from human hair and fingernails.

Alongside the sculptures were paintings from an ongoing series that involves the application of four exhausting layers per canvas: first “an inchoate space,” as he calls it — “not bright or dim, not shallow or deep” — intended to mimic a blank television screen; then a film still, rendered precisely as it appeared on a television in his studio; then the reflection caught on the surface of that screen; then a splintered layer of thick, gestural oil paint made with a stencil derived from a historical painting that relates in some way to the film still. The underlayers — all airbrush — are soft, gray, smooth and ghostly, whereas the oil paint is chunky, brightly colored and seemingly haphazard, with only the slimmest hints at imagery. The effect is that of two entirely different paintings that just happened to brush against each other while wet.


One is inclined to marvel at the mechanics. There are few artists working in L.A. today — in either painting or sculpture — with as delicate a manner or as precise a technique. For LaDuke, however, this is largely beside the point.

“Getting something to look right,” he says, speaking in his clean, fairly nondescript studio in the Santa Fe Art Colony downtown (where he also lives), “is not a big deal. It’s training or practice or whatever, it means nothing.

“You’re doing the best that you can from the things that you know, but the knowledge never creates the painting, it just gives you a framework,” he says. “You’re heading toward something you think is right, but the best thing is always peripheral, it comes in as a rupture in the continuity of what you thought you were doing — reality rather than the perceived reality.”

For the full conversation, click here.

--Holly Myers