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Robert LaDuke: Recollection

September 4, 2018 - Kelly Skeen

Robert LaDuke’s illustrative paintings have a nostalgic quality as his subject matter consists of vehicles, homes and fashions that reference earlier eras. His vintage portraits of idyllic, Rockwell-esque American lifestyles stem from personal memories and experiences, but are often layered with surreal visions. Metaphors and narratives exist beneath LaDuke’s cartoon-like surfaces, which are painted with defined lines and candy-like color palettes. For this year’s solo show, however, LaDuke’s graphic painting process has loosened slightly to reveal softer, somewhat painterly edges. “The experimentation process through which my work evolves is highly intuitive,” explains LaDuke. “I arrive at a new approach with very little sense of conscious intention. The process feels organic to me.”

Robert LaDuke’s latest work for “Recollection” still maintains the illustrative quality that has long characterized his style, just through a somewhat blurred lens. “The soft focus on some of the paintings gives the pieces a slight dreamlike quality in my eyes,” he says. “I base the paintings on reality or memory but almost never try to create realistic images as an end product.”

The dreamy aspect of Robert LaDuke’s work draws us into mysterious narratives that are often left open-ended. In “Shiprock” for example, a cowboy on horseback waves his hat stopping an old green truck, leaving the viewer to wonder about the interaction that follows. Shiprock, a New Mexico landmark, towers in the background and gives the painting a sense of scale while setting an enchanting stage for the scene.

Other narrative pieces in “Recollection” are more defined, at least for the artist, and reference memories from LaDuke’s past. “Blueberry” is a tribute to the artist’s grandparents; the central focus of the painting is a deep blue 1950s Pontiac inspired by the one LaDuke’s grandfather drove - the artist even referenced a personal photograph when painting it. One of LaDuke’s few memories of his grandmother is that she baked delicious pies, so a cooling blueberry pie rests in a nearby window. Family memories also inspire “Creamsicle,” in which an orange vintage car with an orange and white trailer steams across a stark bridge. The creamsicle palette reminds LaDuke of his mother, who bought them as special summer treats when LaDuke was a boy and whose birthday is signified through the number “27” adorning the bridge. The trailer and 1970s-era roadster is a common recurrence in LaDuke’s work, as the pair is stamped in the artist’s memory from summers spent traveling the country with his family.

While the symbols in Robert LaDuke’s work often carry sentimental value, each piece can be interpreted freely. “I enjoy creating narratives with multiple meanings in my work,” says the artist, who ultimately aims to stimulate the memory and emotion of the viewer. His softened hand and loosened brushwork in his latest body of work encourages this visceral response and free interpretation.

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