Ronald Ventura: The Art Provocateur
Philippine Tatler speaks with Ronald Ventura, who has broken the glass ceiling and reintroduced the modern Filipino artist to global awareness.
What do we really know about Ronald Ventura? We know he’s won several art awards and is one of the most successful Filipino artists in the world. He has received numerous awards including the Artist of the Year Award from Art Manila (2001), the 13 Artists Awards from Cultural Centre of the Philippines (2003), and the prestigious Ateneo Art Gallery Studio Residency Grant in Sydney, Australia in 2005 for The Human Study, his series of graphite works on canvas.
In 2012, auction house giant Christie’s said, “Ventura has distinguished himself as a compelling visionary within contemporary Asian art over the last five years. Hailing from a background of rich storytelling and mythology within the Philippines, Ventura has rapidly expanded his idiosyncratic visual outreach to create highly recognisable and lucidly spellbinding canvases.” Ventura’s reputation has earned him various opportunities to exhibit both locally and abroad. Philippine Tatler sits down with the world’s highest-selling Filipino contemporary artist to find out why many say he is well on his way to becoming a legend.
Philippine Tatler: When did you know you had a talent for art? Do you think it was learnt or inborn?
Ronald Ventura: You tell me. Around the time I was in kindergarten, when I was still learning the alphabet, I began to get hooked on [animation series] Voltes V, and began drawing Japanese robots on our door. Even before I memorised the alphabet [I was only up to the letter J] I was already drawing Voltes V. When I was in Grade 4, we were asked to write poems in school and accompany them with drawings. I was happy with the drawings I did, until I saw a classmate’s work. I was impressed and asked why it was different from mine. He explained that his material or medium was different. Only then did I realise that by using other media, like pastels maybe, artworks would look different from each other. So when I was in Grade 5, I took a summer art workshop under Fernando Sena. I also started using oils during my elementary years, and by high school, I was already doing commissioned works for friends of friends and family.
PT: Where do you get your inspirations from?
RV: My ideas for art come from a lot of things: experiences, art, history, fashion, culture—both personal and collective. Traditionally, for an exhibition, there is a series. But the art process isn’t really like that. Think of it this way: when an idea comes to me, I save it in my computer, in respective folders. I then categorise these folders and store them. When the time comes that I need an idea for a show, I get these folders and choose from them. Then I research more and see what I can improve for the show.
PT: They say you paint over your paintings? Is this true?
RV: In some, yes. I follow a painting process. I do preliminary drawings; and sometimes I even put graffiti on the background of a painting. I paint for the day, and when I feel content, I stop. I can continue the next day or rest for a few days before continuing. I will paint and update a painting until I am satisfied. It’s like a film director who is shooting a scene—at certain points he will feel like he needs more extras or more light. This is the closest analogy to my painting process that I can think of. It is like a process of addition and subtraction. I want the state of a painting updated. Sometimes, I paint a full figure but paint over it to leave only a foot or an arm because I am updating the work. Sometimes, an object that has already been painted must be sacrificed to achieve what I want in a painting. I always keep my options open, as my painting is not programmed; it is just how my mind plays.
PT: Describe your art in one sentence.
RV: My art is to liberate visual perception.
Learn more about Ventura and his exhibition, “Hunting Ground,” in Italy and more in the Design Issue of Philippine Tatler (August 2015). Available in any leading newsstands and bookstores, downloadable via Magzter, Zinio, and Pressreader.