Ronald Ventura’s work considers the act of appropriation a form of art itself, perhaps why he is known as the enfant terrible of Southeast Asian art. Throughout his career, he has incorporated various disparate images, including mass popular culture motifs and mythologies from his native Philippines, into largescale oil paintings. These works are then rendered in painstaking detail at monumental, arresting scales: a piercing commentary that peers below a veneer of reality to reveal a state in our postmodern, twenty-first century human condition.
This painting depicts a leopard rendered in grayscale in the background, contrasted with a flat field of horizontal black lines and with white lilies with black and orange spotted stamen. It is a remarkably contained composition for a Ventura piece – one need only glance at his older pieces such as Grayground in contrast – serving as a distilled, pointed argument. As Ventura’s work has matured, the loudness of his older works that explored the commercial world has been redirected into a quieter, yet nonetheless disconcerting, introspection into the inner self.
The leopard in the background is likely the Visayan leopard cat, a vulnerable subspecies of the leopard cat endemic to the Philippine Islands of Negros, Cebu and Panay currently in danger due to habitat loss. One of its eyes is shrouded by a lily, but the other gazes directly at the viewer with an expression of a cool, steady interrogation – its menace undiluted, but intensely familiar. This departs from traditional depictions of predatory animals in tropical settings: George Stubbs’s Tygers at Play depicts these animals at a safe distance as objects of observation, cleaving the relationship between man and nature into two distinct categories. Precolonial Philippine religion consisted of polytheistic pantheon of animals and chimeras, a celebration of the inextricable union between man and nature. This is a testament to the power of the gaze in all its intimate potential, also seen in Diego Velazquez’s Portrait of Juan de Pareia, returning agency to the leopard in its dual role as a symbol of an endangered vernacular identity and as a reflection of humankind.
The black spots on orange meant to cover the leopard’s coat have been transferred onto the stamen of the white lilies depicted on the foreground, painted out of proportion and blown up to an overwhelming scale and size. White lilies have a deep association with death, symbolizing the attainment of restored innocence after demise: we could see the leopard as the representation of a martyr for the cause of man’s ceaseless quest for modernity and technology. Throughout the painting, horizontal bands of black pierce through these lilies, ensuring that each layer does not remain as a hermetically sealed space as each plane intersects and interacts. The contrast between the flowers and the leopard highlights the simultaneity of the delicate and the dangerous: flowers may take on the menace of a leopard’s print, as lurking leopards may take on the intimate innocence of a flower.
Ventura is known for his use of hyperrealism, a school of depiction that developed out of photorealism and photography. Ventura’s use of hyperrealism is deeply ambivalent: it at once claims to definitive depictions of subject matter with its use of detail yet the composition of these images subverts any form of stability and singular interpretation. Ventura once commented that he likes “to layer different realities”2, echoing the sentiment of French philosopher Jean Baudillard who commented that the hyperreal is “the simulation of something which never really existed”3. Baudillard believed that the hyperreal was an emergent state of how the consciousness interacts with “reality” when it loses the ability to clearly distinguish between reality and fantasy, thus subconsciously engaging with the fantasy while suspended in a belief of reality.
Ventura once commented that his artistic process was “automatic”4: in this sense, he could be seen as a “mediator”[v] through which our postmodern condition is channeled. It is a technological process in service of a technological art, at once a critique of our existence in a state of uncritical postmodern hyperreality and at once aware that we cannot escape the inevitability of such a condition. The German philosopher Martin Heidegger once commented that, “Art is the essence of the salvation of technology.” Ventura’s unreality of technological art cannot “resolve,” but perhaps in a gaze, in a burst of colour or in the assuredness of a line, it can awaken in all of us a sense of awareness – and this is all we need to begin questioning an invisible, omnipresent system.
1 Ronald Ventura, Tyler Rollins Fine Art, exhibition catalogue, 2011
2 Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop, "A Filipino Artist's Fantastical Vision, Finely Crafted", International New York Times, Arts Section, published November 4 2011.
3 Jean Baudrillard, "Simulacra and Simulation", Ann Arbor Mich.: University of Michigan Press, 1981.
4 Refer to 1.
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