The pop icons that have slowly crawled over and covered Ronald Ventura's marble bodies and stark landscapes over the years have an interesting history. The forefather of these characters emerged around the time of World War II, when Superpowers harnessed every available resource to pep up jaded citizenries through propaganda. The need to distract people from very real misery and entertain was a delicate balance. Such was the case in Hollywood, with Disney churning out well-loved classics in between making propaganda and training films for the military. This tension was not lost to the next generation of animators. In Postwar Japan, a Disney fan emerged as the "father of manga and anime." Tezuka created a robot with an atomic heart. Astroboy is recognized worldwide nowadays as the robot boy who failed his creator, who was sold, and eventually adopted and loved. He saved the world from evil and injustice. It was a risky gamble to feature such a character just after the horrific destruction brought about by war machineries. But the human quality somehow reached out to audiences and a pop icon was born.
The Philippines is not unfamiliar with this war, being a colony of both countries where these animated characters came from. In a way, Ventura's play of these characters is a satirical tribute to the powers that have molded the culture and history of his country. As with captives who have lived so long with their captors, acquiescence has replaced the feeling of aggression. Ventura, for example, has long been playing with the icon of Astroboy. In one piece, he visualized a general sentiment - bestowing Astroboy with human skin, as if being humane has finally made the robot a human.
In his recent body of works, a dizzying accumulation of these similar characters populate the layer above the dank monochrome human world. The artist has been continuously burying his sobriety with pop Bacchanalia, a tendency he himself has described as a "penchant for collecting images." This ubiquitous layering, almost always attributed to the various periods of Philippine history, directs attention to a trend quite unlike its usual reading. It is interesting to look at it again from another perspective, this time on how this process of "collection" could have been the outset of the tapering off of the inherent narratives of each of the icons appropriated.
Because this is how the Ventura works. There is no explicit rhyme or reason to what these characters may symbolize upon being placed on the canvas. Their colors, clashing against the drab background, say it all. The artist, at one point, must have stopped staying in the studio, and turned to media. Be it for entertainment, information-gathering, or plain whiling away of time - the products of his diversions are transparent narratives of how intrusive images have come in this image-saturated era. Memory and history are a luxury when such a force bears its weight on the senses. This force is an irony because it is weightless. The representations cease to represent the original up to a point, their meaning lost in translation. As such, their emptiness have become a favorite vessel of world - weary creators, who appropriate and imbue upon ready-made pop alternative readings and meanings and create something new out of the worn.
This is the weight that grounds Ventura's ouvres. A general feeling of déjà vu suffuses his canvasses and yet it does not quite satisfy one's inevitable search for logic through his topsy-turvy worlds. In Humanime, the artist features a vixen with a human body and a disproportionately large head of an anime. His propensity to merge the human figure with another form - be it animal or robot - points to a mounting dissatisfaction with the human body as a bearer of narrative. Ventura is a victim of his own recycling processes, his bodies have now ceased to mean and have become empty images themselves.
A general trend of a watered down upheaval - from the hallowed perfect bodies he once painted in defiance against his early religious art trainings, now turned backgrounds; to appropriated animation characters originally drawn to soothe postwar traumas, now turned colourants - point to a blasphemous resignation to meaninglessness. The usual jolly crowd of the well-known and well-loved characters, framing the deathly white humanime, scream and scramble at desperation for meaning, tugging at history to plump up their value. The voluptous body on a plush couch might brew up a tempest but the head of the humanime is decidedly placid, its glassy eyes unruffled by pretensions to depth or feeling.
Ventura pays his highest homage to these harried times by choosing the superficial. He owns up and maintains what he has already said before, his words as the creator unacceptable to most, mined for every possible semiotics - this is a flat surface teeming with images, and there is nothing more.
- Adjani Arumpac
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