Asking about the "seeming conflict, or antagonism, between painting's representational function and its self-reflection," the art historian and critic Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, in a 1986 interview, quizzed the painter Gerhard Richter on his bringing together of the two tendencies in his work. "But aren't they brought together in order to show the inadequacy and bankruptcy of both?" Richter's answer was precise: "Bankruptcy, no; inadequacy, always."
Tom LaDuke's recent paintings, which anchor his fifth show at Angles (the inaugural of the gallery's new Culver City space), seem to follow in the spirit of Richter's answer, as well as in the explorations of simultaneous imagery and stylistic promiscuity explored by Sigmar Polke and David Salle among others.
LaDuke's paintings begin with the screen of a TV in his studio, which he reproduces via airbrush with photorealist detail, capturing views of his workspace as reflected in the glass, and moments in films playing on the screen. This fusion amounts to an old-school idea of illusionistic painting as a window, with an added reduction and radicalization of the plays upon reflection that one sees in precedents such as Velázquez' Las Meninas, combined with the distanced yet fascinated engagement of pop artists with received imagery.
The question of distance from, and intimacy with, imagery as relates to culture, which is arguably at the heart of LaDuke's paintings, is furthered by the additional layering of imagery — seen in silhouette and in heavily impastoed, multihued paint — lifted from old-master paintings and overlaid atop the airbrushing. A scene from the film 1984, merged with the reflection of LaDuke's studio, peeks from behind splotches and globs that add up to the dangling sausages and meats from Pieter Aertsen's 1568 still life/genre painting The Butcher's Stall, while another studio view, merged with a shot from Taxi Driver, drops away behind a surface smeared with shapes from Manet's Execution of the Emperor Maximilian, 1867, and so on, with films ranging from Star Wars to Blade Runner to Blue Velvet, and historical paintings by the likes of Goya, Friedrich and van Eyck. If all this sounds a bit formulaic, it no doubt is, but such goes back to the issue of distancing itself, with LaDuke, like Richter, showing himself as someone who wants to neither fully open nor close off the possibility of personal expression. These are not the warmest of paintings, but there is something coolly human about them, and intellectually compelling, and while LaDuke's sculptures, also present here, continue with their technical feats of mastery and mimicry, it's the paintings that leave you waiting for what's next from this artist.
Angles Gallery: 2754 S. La Cienega Blvd., L.A. Tues.-Sat., 10-6, through Feb. 20. (310) 396-5019, anglesgallery.com.