Filipino artist Ronald Ventura’s “Watchmen”: Local deity transformed – exhibition profile

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.

Exhibition view, "Watching the Watchmen" by Ronald Ventura, Vargas Museum, 13 November to 14 December 2012. Image by Art Radar.

Exhibition view, "Watching the Watchmen" by Ronald Ventura, Vargas Museum, 13 November to 14 December 2012. Image by Art Radar.

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.

Ronald Ventura, 'Never Ending Battlefield 1', 2012, fabric - lightbox, 4 x 8 ft. Image by Art Radar.

Ronald Ventura, 'Never Ending Battlefield 1', 2012, fabric - lightbox, 4 x 8 ft. Image by Art Radar.

Ronald Ventura, 'Never Ending Battlefield 2', 2012, canvas - lightbox, 4 x 8 ft. Image by Art Radar.

Ronald Ventura, 'Never Ending Battlefield 2', 2012, canvas - lightbox, 4 x 8 ft. Image by Art Radar.

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”.

Ronald Ventura, 2012, fiberglass, resin, metal, polyurethane paint and charcoal, 42 x 36 x 183 cm. Image by Art Radar.

Ronald Ventura, 2012, fiberglass, resin, metal, polyurethane paint and charcoal, 42 x 36 x 183 cm. Image by Art Radar.

Ronald Ventura, 2012, fiberglass, resin, metal, polyurethane paint and charcoal, 41 x 39 x 185 cm. Image by Art Radar.

Ronald Ventura, 2012, fiberglass, resin, metal, polyurethane paint and charcoal, 41 x 39 x 185 cm. Image by Art Radar.

Ronald Ventura, 2012, fiberglass, resin, metal, polyurethane paint and charcoal, 183 x 41 x 183 cm. Image by Art Radar.

Ronald Ventura, 2012, fiberglass, resin, metal, polyurethane paint and charcoal, 183 x 41 x 183 cm. Image by Art Radar.

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.

Exhibition view, "Watching the Watchmen" by Ronald Ventura, Vargas Museum, 13 November to 14 December 2012. Image by Art Radar.

Exhibition view, "Watching the Watchmen" by Ronald Ventura, Vargas Museum, 13 November to 14 December 2012. Image by Art Radar.

Exhibition view, "Watching the Watchmen by Ronald Ventura", Vargas Museum, 13 November to 14 December 2012. Image by Art Radar.

Exhibition view, "Watching the Watchmen by Ronald Ventura", Vargas Museum, 13 November to 14 December 2012. Image by Art Radar.

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.

Ronald Ventura, 2012, fiberglass, resin, polyurethane paint, 41 x 36 x 122 cm. Image by Art Radar.

Ronald Ventura, 2012, fiberglass, resin, polyurethane paint, 41 x 36 x 122 cm. Image by Art Radar.

Ronald Ventura, 2012, fiberglass, resin, metal, polyurethane paint and charcoal, 94 x 59 x 183 cm. Image by Art Radar.

Ronald Ventura, 2012, fiberglass, resin, metal, polyurethane paint and charcoal, 94 x 59 x 183 cm. Image by Art Radar.

Ronald Ventura, 2012, fiberglass, resin, metal, polyurethane paint and charcoal, 70 x 36 x 127 cm. Image by Art Radar.

Ronald Ventura, 2012, fiberglass, resin, metal, polyurethane paint and charcoal, 70 x 36 x 127 cm. Image by Art Radar.

Ronald Ventura, 2012, fiberglass, resin, metal, polyurethane paint and charcoal, 41 x 36 x 183 cm. Image by Art Radar.

Ronald Ventura, 2012, fiberglass, resin, metal, polyurethane paint and charcoal, 41 x 36 x 183 cm. Image by Art Radar.

Ronald Ventura, 2012, fiberglass, resin, metal, polyurethane paint and charcoal, 92 x 84 x 275 cm. Image by Art Radar.

Ronald Ventura, 2012, fiberglass, resin, metal, polyurethane paint and charcoal, 92 x 84 x 275 cm. Image by Art Radar.

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.”

Artworks at Ronald Ventura's "Watching the Watchmen", 2012, Vargas Museum, Philippines. Image by Art Radar.

Artworks at Ronald Ventura's "Watching the Watchmen", 2012, Vargas Museum, Philippines. Image by Art Radar.

Artworks at Ronald Ventura's "Watching the Watchmen", 2012, Vargas Museum, Philippines. Image by Art Radar.

Artworks at Ronald Ventura's "Watching the Watchmen", 2012, Vargas Museum, Philippines. Image by Art Radar.

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.

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Related Topics: Filipino artists, sculpture, art exhibitions in Manila

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Filipino artist Ronald Ventura’s “Watchmen”: Local deity transformed – exhibition profile — 1 Comment

  1. I admire the sculptures in fibreglass! It’s such a amazing idea how it is done! The figures are so detailed that I love that it is in black and white color! I wonder how many days or months it takes to finish a project like that?

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