Until somebody beats the record-breaking bid in an auction for the work of a contemporary Asian artist, Ronald Ventura might always be known for his large-scale work “Grayground.” The 39-year-old artist has been painting and creating for many years now, but the Sotheby’s Modern and Contemporary Southeast Asian Paintings auction in Hong Kong in April 2011 proved to be an eye-opener—for art collectors and artists alike.
By the time the dust had cleared, Ventura’s graphite, oil and acrylic painting of horses in the midst of battle was sold to a phone bidder for $1.1 million, the highest for Sotheby’s Contemporary Southeast Asian Painting auction.
Fast-forward to the present—Ventura is preparing for two exhibits that will run simultaneously at Jorge P. Vargas Museum at UP Diliman and at Singapore Tyler Print Institute (STPI).
For the Vargas Museum exhibit, he will present his take on the modern bulol, the wooden granary gods found in the northern part of the Philippines.
As one of the Singapore institute’s artists in residence, Ventura’s work will be featured in a solo show from Nov. 17 to Dec. 15. Instead of continuing his technique of applying multiple layers of mixed media to create different textures, he has focused his attention on lithographs for the 10th-anniversary exhibit of STPI.
“I chose lithographs, since STPI is known for its prints. They have all this technology on hand and I wanted to tap this for my pieces,” he said.
Ventura explained the complicated and tedious process done to achieve different looks for the lithographs. Apparently, much of it depends on the strength of the acid used.
He was quick to point out, however, that his prints will be limited to three or five pieces. They will not be produced in the hundreds.
Ventura said he does not want to be limited to a style, preferring to create depending on the concept of the exhibition.
“It’s like when you’re building a house. You don’t just use hollow blocks; you need cement, concrete and metal,” he said.
Throughout the interview, the artist compared his organic creative process to other mundane situations like making a salad or putting together a pasta dish.
“There really are no fixed rules. I decide whether a piece is finished or if it needs something more. That’s the same way when it comes to food,” Ventura said.
For the Vargas Museum exhibit, which opens Nov. 13, the artist latched on to the bulol because of its sculptural quality and because of his desire to show the world a piece of Philippine culture.
Instead of focusing on the seated gods, however, he chose upright “watchmen” which he then updated by altering their features and casting them in resin. The oversized figures sport elaborate tattoos of Christ and roses, long and pointed noses, or are faceted like some animé character.
“There’s hardly any need to explain the pieces because they are ‘familiar’ among children like my 10-year-old son who is obsessed with animé and Transformers, and among those who know the tale of Pinocchio,” Ventura said.
As the interview wound up, it was obvious the artist had already moved beyond “Grayground” and the Sotheby’s auction.
“That was just one part of who I am as an artist. Sometimes, people just need a wider perspective,” he said.