Ronald Ventura has established himself as a tour de force within contemporary Asian art over the last five years. His distinctive artworks take the form of carefully crafted tableaux, comprising enigmatic visual metaphors, recurring figural characters, and appropriated symbols from contemporary culture. Instead of relying on individual narratives, Ventura instead composes a synthesis of disparate elements, displaying his signature photorealist technique skillfully melded with pop iconography.
A predecessor to his later painting, Eyeland Divide, we see the elements of the horse, the classical corpus, rainbows, and cartoon figures present in both Ventura’s studies of contemporary culture. The artwork is both a visual and verbal pun: “Eye Land” sounds like the word “Island,” and the artwork itself is a mass of dense images evoking the shape of a human eye, surrounded on all sides by the white sea of the canvas. Created by an artist of Filipino origin, the title relates to ideas of the islands of Ventura’s home; disparate fragments of land, together forming the psychological state and consciousness of a single nation. In Eye Land, we see a more literal reference to the idea of an Island in the composition, the beginning of a title concept he explores further in Eyeland Divide.
Eye Land achieves Ventura’s trademark surreal effect by blending multiple levels of reality and styles of representation on a single surface. The contrast between mixed representational styles of European renaissance painting, hand-drawn cartoons from television shows of our childhoods, monochrome realist treatment and graphic, graffiti style showcases his talent and range as an artist, and accentuates the contrast between the layers of realities and meanings in his work. The artist pastiches cultural icons and images on top of each other to create an energetic, vibrating collage on canvas. His use of Disney-style cartoons recalls a nostalgic childhood, and in addition, functions as a comment on how the megalithic force of cultural imperialism of the West has occupied a deep-seated place in our imaginations. Like the Pop artists, Ventura appropriates the media images assaulting our visual senses on a daily basis as commentary. While Warhol and Lichtenstein reproduced images for the sake of highlighting their ubiquity, Ventura juxtaposes, highlights and obscures these images with each other, producing a rich narrative that is absent in the iconic images of those American Pop artists. In Ventura’s composition, a menacing black scorpion is painted over a bright green car ridden by a group of cartoon pigs, and elsewhere, cartoon animals hang by their necks against the darker background of the painting. This macabre treatment of images from our childhood, contrasted with their iconic bright colours lends a menacing mood to the composition.
The Renaissance-style Cupids and the study of a headless male body are technically excellent, as if immaculately carved out of the surface of the canvas, and guide the eye around the painting in a visual triangle, in unison with a photorealistic painting of half a woman’s face on the left. These three bodies examine the different ideals of beauty in representation, from the classically statuesque to the intense human gaze in contemporary photorealism.
Ventura suggests that the fictional, graphical creatures in this work are also very much a part of our physical reality, by applying anatomical style drawing to the Pegasus, and by including the sketched skeleton of a horse-like creature at the bottom of the picture. Layered over the man’s body, the skeleton references the artist’s understanding of anatomy, which is apparent in the way he is able to reproduce the prominent ribs under the flesh of the human figure so accurately. At the same time, the Pegasus is painted to show its nervous system, employing our visual language of science and medicine to suggest that it is a living, breathing creature. The representation of both humans and imaginary creatures such as the cupids and the Pegasus on the same plane deepens the melding of reality and fiction in this picture, forming a dreamscape back-grounded by recognisable elements of our physical environment: explosions, trees and buildings. As such, Ventura successfully creates an image of the natural world interacting with our man-made environment and inventions, especially on a psychological level. The mix of graphic with pictorial and realistic styles form a visual shape, an “Eye Land” that is a conglomeration of landscape, new and old Western and European cultural icons. By producing this visual mass, Ventura brings our attention to the myths and media influences that makes up the psychological landscape of our contemporary society, which he argues molds and interacts with the way we negotiate the physical world.