Framed: Backyard Memories Against a Caravaggio Backdrop

On display at Kohn Gallery, Tom LaDuke’s new paintings blend images from disparate psychological locations

The fireworks display in Tom LaDuke’s “Before Before” is based on a family photograph from the artist’s childhood in the 1970s, and his own (green) head appears in an oblique double profile above the central explosive. The frame of a swingset evokes his recollection of a youthful romantic crush. These and other foreground elements in the painting leap out at the viewer. Less immediately apparent is that the backdrop for these bold figures is a soft airbrushed recreation of Caravaggio’s famous painting “Judith Beheading Holofernes.” At right the sack that awaits the victim’s head in the original work bears an almost imperceptible reproduction of the Caravaggio painting with LaDuke’s own gray-scale head again partially sticking out, an effect he created using the Blender 3D computer graphics program.

Each of the eleven works on canvas by LaDuke in the new Candles and Lasers show at the Kohn Gallery juxtaposes images fraught with autobiographical and personally resonant pop culture significance on top of hazy, airbrushed recreations of familiar classic paintings. Barely perceptible through the brightly colored contours of the artist’s father’s Cadillac and a panoply of abstract figures in “French Cemetery,” for example, is the supine figure of Manet’s “Dead Toreador.” Two of the three protagonists in “A Lady and Two Gentlemen” by Vermeer are more clearly visible in “Curtains” lurking behind a ceramic figurine of the Disney dwarf Sleepy and a patterned dress and curtains made by LaDuke’s mother.

Star Wars iconography and an interior photo of the Streamline trailer where LaDuke’s family once lived for nine months almost completely obscure the Velasquez “Infante Margarita Teresa” in “Gloryhole.” In the painting “Chain” a crowd of Disneyland theme park images and other toys also leave only a few visible traces of the underlying Bosch “Garden of Earthly Delights” triptych (which LaDuke wryly acknowledges has never been one of his favorite works).

LaDuke asserts that his paintings “bring up questions of time and the role that sequential time has on our perception of the world,” questions that “set up a particular psychological location. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to put one’s finger on this location,…[but] I believe these are the only questions worth asking any more.”

Candles and Lasers is on view through May 16.