Filipino artist Ronald Ventura draws influence from a northern Luzon god, the Bul-ol, for his huge “Watchmen”, which appeared at the Vargas Museum in late 2012.
“Watching the Watchmen”, which ran at the Vargas Museum, University of the Philippines, from 3 November to 14 December 2012, was seen by many as a homecoming show for Ronald Ventura, who returned to the Philippines fresh from successful art shows and other achievements all over the globe.
For the exhibition, sculptures in fibreglass, predominantly coloured black and white and in diverse sizes, were mounted alongside some of what Ventura calls “light boxes”, large constructions of canvas and fabric that were encased in an illuminated acrylic, each covered with drawings by the artist in ink and graphite and endowed with his familiar style of combining cartoons, graffiti, men in gas masks, skulls and more.
Global recognition and homecoming
Since 2010, the artist has exhibited in Italy, New York, Spain and across Asia. In April 2011, at a Sotheby’s auction, Ventura’s Grayground achieved the record for the highest bid ever garnered at a contemporary Southeast Asian painting auction when it sold for USD1.1 million.
Despite being hailed as such, “Watching the Watchmen” was never conceived as a homecoming exhibition. “The show was two years in the making and was always part of the schedule,” Miguel Rosales, a close friend who also acts as Ventura’s consultant, tells Art Radar. Showing simultaneously with his Vargas Museum show, is an exhibition of his work at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute (STPI) entitled “Recyclables”.
Large sculptures: Exploring new materials
In “Watching the Watchmen”, Ventura pays homage to the indigenous culture of the Philippines by taking a religious deity, the Bul-ol or Bulul, known locally as the “Rice God”, and transforming it into different images and forms. As Ventura tells Art Radar, “Bul-ol is one of the icons, when it comes to sculpture in our country, that was never influenced by the West.”
“The artist experimented with new materials and larger sizes for the sculptures, as well as highlighted the process via installations of his drawings,” says Miguel Rosales. It took a lot of sweat to put together all the sculptures, says Ventura. It is no ordinary ordeal to transport more than two dozen gargantuan sculptures, especially the largest, which towers at seventeen feet tall and is situated on the museum’s front lawn.
Ventura has worked in sculpture before, but the “Watchmen” are by far his largest three dimensional works. In contrast with traditional Bul-ol sculpture, which is solely made out of wood, Fibreglass was the main material for Ventura’s figures, with wood and plastic resin used to make them sturdier. Metal and charcoal were also incorporated into some of the works. To finish off the sculptures, the artist used polyurethane paint, which gives the pieces a glossy look.
Ancient and contemporary collide
Although the inspiration for his sculptures came from the Bul-ol, Ventura’s “Watchmen” alienate the relic’s religious and aboriginal roots. In northern Luzon, the statues are made to stand guard in rice granaries to protect the harvest. However, it is also said that if the figure is treated with disrespect, it will cause sickness.
Ventura is quick to point out that his exploration of the Bul-ol was only in its form and structure and that, even though the Bul-ol is teeming with symbolism, “the sacredness of the object transcends when it is relegated … to a decorative, domesticated prop”. “This is also my way of taking something of ceremonious value in the Filipino culture and rendering it as pop, as collectible (like Mattel or McFarlane), as infused with the images of today (from Final Fantasy to Transformers), contemporarily mythic,” Ventura explains in a Philippine Star article.
Another local newspaper reporter, Filipina Lippi, asks the artist if he is worried if the Igorots, the people of northern Luzon, might protest the artistic morphing of the Bul-ol, their tribal god, as a desecration. He answers, “I can say this is no longer the Bul-ol. … Man initiates the sacredness of religious icons. I mean things are not sacred per se unless intentionally made so by man.”
More on Ronald Ventura
Ronald Ventura (b. Manila, 1973) earned a Bachelor in Fine Arts in Painting at the University of Santo Tomas, Manila. He has received numerous awards, including an award of excellence from the OITA Asian Sculpture Exhibition Open Competition in 2008 and a 13 Artist Award by the Cultural Centre of the Philippines in 2003. Ventura has held solo exhibitions around Asia, the United States and Europe. To date, he holds the record for the highest priced piece sold in an auction for a living contemporary Southeast Asian artist.
- Ronald Ventura contemporary standout: Christie’s autumn 2012 art evening sale – November 2012 – a lot that sold at a price significantly greater than the high estimate
- Filipino artist Rodel Tapaya named Signature Art Prize 2011 grand prize winner – November 2011 – another Filipino artist on the rise
- Fashion photography to fishing: Manila Contemporary shows Philippine artist Wahoo Guerrero – July 2011 – a body of work depicting the Philippine Sea and the people that work and live beside it
- Most successful young visual artists in Manila named by SPOT – January 2011 – Ventura number one on this locally produced list
- Filipino artist Ronald Ventura in Singapore museum show to November 2008 – October 2008 – the artist studies the human body, paranoia and religious consciousness in modern societies
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