One of the most acclaimed contemporary artists in Southeast Asian Art, Ronald Ventura, possesses an unsurpassed ability to create fantastic realities through the satirical representation of magical and mythological images. Ventura creates compelling and richly distinctive images that blend past and present beyond physical reality, and captures the elusive and suspenseful magical quality which emanates from the unexpected intersections of human existence.
Ventura’s earlier works from the early and mid-2000s mainly focus on the technically adept depictions of nude human figures in a dramatically monochrome palette. His subjects during this period consist of detailed and delicate sketches of the most basic form of human body, sometimes involving the image of crucifixion or the uncanny image of human wearing a gas mask as observed in his 2008 painting Zoo Keeper (Fig.1). From the late 2000s, Ventura’s canvas began to veer into hyperrealism and photorealism with vivid hues, marking the beginning of a new phase of his artistic style and the birth of his signature palette. Vivid pops of colour and graphic elements disrupt a linear or singular reading of his paintings, as in the multi-layered Wonderful Bait (Fig.2).
One of his Fiesta Carnival series executed in 2012, Pillow, was exhibited in a solo show for the artist held at Primo Marella Gallery in Milan, Italy, in the same year Ventura was lauded for his skillful combination of nostalgic child-like images and his signature layering technique upon photorealism.
The Fiesta Carnival series is a throwback to his childhood, of going to the Fiesta Carnival at the amusement park in Cubao, Quezon City, at the heart of Manila, the Philippines, where he was born and raised. In the Fiesta Carnival series, Ventura explores issues of colonialism and its compiled influence over the national identity of the Philippines through the seemingly innocent yet penetrating lens of a young child. Ventura’s signature layering process is a metaphor for the multifaceted national identity of the Philippines stretching back centuries. The Philippines was occupied by various world powers, Spain, the United States, and Japan, and has been at the intersection of many different cultures along with the underlying persistence of an essential distinctive culture in the same way carnivals provide a place for different cultures and people passing through. And these layers of voices and scents of different colonists combined with the original colors of the Philippines have resulted in a “complex yet uneasy sense of identity” of the nation and its people. (Ronald Ventura: E.R. (Endless Resurrection), Tyler Rollins Fine Art, August 1, 2014).
Pillow, however, is uniquely different from Ventura’s other works, even within the same series, with its photorealistic rendering of a cartoon scene with uncharacteristic colours. Pillow captures the festive moment of the famous happily-ever-after scene from a Disney movie, Snow White, which is based on a fairy tale. In this scene, Snow White, who falls asleep after take a bite of the evil queen’s poisoned apple and wakes up with her Prince’s kiss, is finally in the arms of her charming Prince. However, her face and body are completely invisible in darkness except for her red shoes, reminding us of another fantasy, the Wizard of Oz. Ventura’s signature dark palette delicately touches the edges of the canvas and the contour of the sleeping woman’s face, to which the viewer’s attention is drawn by the sophisticated contrast of dark and light. Over this festive and celebratory scene, a looming darkness encroaches the edges of the scene, and like the Snow White’s poisoned apple: the skulls, black stains on the faces of the dwarfs, dark clouds, sickly flowers, and even the sleeping figure are all tainted. The bright centre of the painting presents itself as a space for imagination and questioning, as the presumed space for the scene’s protagonists stands empty. Ventura skillfully suggests the possible existence of the dark side of the festive scene, allowing the viewer to see beyond the lens of innocent child. Flashing back to his childhood memory, in Pillow, Ventura successfully creates a dialogue between the past and the present, and the painting is a metaphor for the apparently benevolent influences of not only the previous colonists since the 16th century Spanish era but also of contemporary global pop culture in continuance of the past colonialism.