An interview with Filipino artist Ronald Ventura.
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Like many emerging artists, early in his
career Ronald Ventura
tended to sell everything he
Now that his
reputation is firmly established and he
is dreaming of one day setting up a contemporary art museum in Manila, the 39-year-old auction star has found himself in the unenviable position of going back to collectors to buy back key pieces.
has seen the auction prices for his
recent work soar in the past few years.
The 2011 "Grayground" - a large-scale graphite, oil, and acrylic painting of horses in the midst of battle - was sold that same year to a phone bidder at Sotheby's Hong Kong for $1.1 million, the highest auction price recorded for a contemporary southeast Asian painting at the time.
Yet the Filipino artist says he
was stunned to find out how much some of his
older works had appreciated.
"A couple of years ago, I was looking for a good drawing that I had done.
A few hours later, at the show's opening reception, Ventura
appeared in a black t-shirt with a black jacket by Maison Martin Margiela, a label known for its understated approach.
had paired these simple items with white jeans he
had hand-painted with an elaborate, graffiti-like design.
The contrasting fashion statement is a reflection of the artist's personality: behind his
quiet, soft-spoken demeanor lurks an edgier side that Ventura
lets loose in his
loves nothing more than to subvert familiar cartoon figures, such as Mickey Mouse or a dwarf from Snow White, giving them a "new reality" with the help of a skull or a gas mask.
The artist has risen to prominence on the Asian contemporary art scene with complex, layered works that juxtapose unexpected images, often rather dark - internal organs with flowers and butterflies, or a clown and a gas mask - always rendered with exquisite draughtsmanship.
is known for mixing different styles, such as hyperrealism and Surrealism, cartoons and graffiti.
has a proven ability to surprise viewers (and collectors) by offering new works that incorporate familiar images, using different mediums or fresh layering to create intricate compositions that remain identifiably "Ventura
" while nudging the envelope a little further each time.
"Actually there is no such thing as new.
We just discover something by looking at it a different way," he
admits to loving contradictions and multiple realities, mixing the pretty and the grim, the fun and the gruesome.
"It's really my intention.
I want to produce an image that grabs you, and after that, as you look at the details, it will tell you more," he
recent "Fiesta Carnival" exhibition at Primo Marella Gallery
in Milan, Ventura
found inspiration in the amusement park of his
childhood, a place his
parents used to take him and his
siblings on weekends and holidays.
This memory was the starting point for a connection between the Filipino and European cultures of carnivals.
Prompting discourse about environmental concerns is also important to the artist.
For "Recyclables," Ventura
took his cue from Singapore's rapid expansion, which threatens its tropical flora, using it to reflect on the need for more recycling.
With his STPI
approaches the recycling concept from different angles.
not only uses recycled paper, but his
"Into the Woods" series incorporates rubbings of traditional Filipino carved-wood panels and furniture.
Reprocessing these images, as he
so often does in his
created paper trees made from casts of these salvaged wooden pieces-a symbol, he
says, of how art can come full circle.
Animal shapes and human faces are fused into the trees' branches and trunks, reflecting the life forces associated with nature.
Ventura is currently working on a new solo show for Galerie Perrotin in Hong Kong, where he plans to show his first shaped-canvas series.
There are also plans for a 2014 mini retrospective of sorts in Lugano, which will include a selection of works held by European collectors as well as pieces from his recent "Watching the Watchmen" exhibition at the Jorge B. Vargas Museum in Manila.
"The Lugano museum is collecting artifacts from the northern part of the Philippines, so there is a real connection here with 'Watching the Watchmen,'" explains Ventura
"That's very interesting to me." Ventura was inspired by the bulol, a wooden rice god found in the northern Philippines, which symbolizes wealth and protection. (The bulol stands guard in granaries.) Ventura gave the indigenous icon a contemporary feel, transforming his figures into toylike anime characters cast in resin, revealing sinew, muscle, and bone, tattooing them with images of Christ, skulls, and tribal patterns, or morphing them into Pinocchio-like figures with long pointed noses.
has always stressed he's
not interested in the hoopla that has surrounded the price of his
works at auction.
admits it has given him international recognition, and a voice.
wants to use that voice to promote broader Filipino culture internationally.
Among the highlights will be this stunning piece by Ronald Ventura
was wearing a highly personalized Mickey Mouse T-shirt.
By using an airbrush technique similar to the graffiti style in some of his
artwork, the Filipino artist had subverted the classic cartoon image with red and black paint, transforming the smiling mouse into something slightly menacing.