Robert LaDuke’s narrative paintings are a combination of memories, dreams and everyday life. Some of LaDuke’s most vivid memories are of traveling cross country in the family Cadillac with an Airstream trailing behind. Combined with these memories is a fascination with 1940's era transportation and because of an inheritance of antique steel toys, it comes as no surprise that the same steel toys often appear as subject matter in many of LaDuke’s paintings. Based on American transportation in the 1930-40s, LaDuke’s acrylic paintings feature toys which were popular during that era. According to LaDuke, his work “is pretty much transportation oriented, trains, ships, cars, trailers, everything that rolls or floats and they always have that nostalgic 40s look to them.”
Since childhood, LaDuke can remember drawing old cars, especially those that were once in the Life magazine ads. He loved the bright colors and compared them to the colors of candy. They always seemed like “happy” colors to him and that is why he has chosen to use bright, fun colors in his own paintings.
One of LaDuke’s major influences is Norman Rockwell. Rockwell was known for his idyllic depictions of American life and although LaDuke is influenced by the pre- and post-World War II era like Rockwell, LaDuke explores a deeper, darker side.
Antique toys are not the only interesting element in LaDuke’s paintings. Each panel seems to tell a story much like a comic book. LaDuke likes to make the viewer think that something is about to happen. Trains are speeding down the track, a car races to get away from the police, everything is in motion. "I enjoy creating narratives with multiple meanings in my work. I imagine that, a certain dark but humorous tone underlies my cartoon-like illustrative surfaces. Although realism often dominates my work visually, it is in fact merely providing a frame of reference to a metaphoric end."