Armor represents a new direction in Ventura’s inimitable corpus —one that continues to probe his audience to reflect more deeply and question their assumptions, while exploring the layered meaning of a singular image. As a leading figure in contemporary Filipino art, the Manila-born artist has produced provocative works of mounting prowess. Drawing from an eclectic artistic vocabulary consisting of a constantly evolving mileage of influences — European old masters, pop icons, cartoon characters, contemporary Filipino culture — Ventura avoids appropriating visual forms in a straightforward manner. Rather he is known for his penchant for aesthetic innovation: cultural references show up in unexpected places to provoke, challenge, and renegotiate popular understandings of art, society, identity and belief.
In its dominating scale, compositional intensity, expressionistic force and deft engagement with contemporary issues, Armor demonstrates the powerful allure of Ventura’s best works. Adopting the imagery of a familiar icon –a winged figure—Ventura here suggests a bold new vision about belief and strength in the midst of battle. He references notions of superhuman beings or angels meant to protect individuals amidst the fight between good and evil.
Landing with great force, Ventura’s angel in Armor appears to have survived a blow – white smoke from the explosion still lingers fresh in the background while shredded pieces of cloth are dispersed in mid-air. While the angel’s face is hidden from the viewer, her slender yet athletic form bears the weight and strength of a pair of powerful wings. Despite her fall, she lands gracefully, landing on her right knee and the sole of her arched, left foot. Her long hair sweeps the floor as she dramatically bends her body forward. By melding reality and imagination, human and superhuman, the divine and the mortal, the protector and protected, the artist imbues Armor with a powerful message.
Pulsating with an intense, fervent energy, Armor is a theatrical composition of stirring emotion that shows a climactic moment. Despite the force of the blast, Ventura’s angel maintains a stance of preparedness, neither deterred nor discouraged by the fall from flight. The image sends a message of falling not as failure, but a retreat to regain stance, a pause to resume battle. A melding of the old and new is also showcased as the figure is reminiscent of Classical forms while the blast appears to be digitally-manipulated.
The artist shows a moment of anticipation: the figure is on the brink of ascent as it holds a half-kneeling position, left leg extended, feet arched and on tip-toes. Holding out a strong arm upon the ground, as if to push against the pull of gravity and on the verge of lift off. Rendered in careful chiaroscuro, the flesh of the angel holds a marble-like, tactile quality, reminiscent of classical sculpture and technique. In many ways, Armor evinces a Baroque sensibility and takes inspiration from masterpieces of the European Renaissance. Ventura’s serpentine contortions of the angel, bending on one knee with its back arched dramatically toward the ground, serves to express movement in the painting, while recalling the extreme physical flexibility of Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne. Furthermore, by limiting the colour palette to subtle browns, whites and greys, Ventura is able to stage a strikingly moving scene with chromatic economy. The heightened tension unwinds within the work as the artist’s use of tonal contrasts and attention to anatomical form, imbues the piece with a mesmerizing sense of motion.
Ventura’s portrayal of the central figure similarly departs from the traditional imagination of angels as cherubic or venerable heavenly beings. Instead the artist emphasizes the humanness and physicality of the figure through his meticulous rendering of detail. In his signature hyperrealist style, Ventura captures the sacred and profane with immense dexterity. Indeed the angel is no stranger to the artist’s universe which is littered with bizarre unions of humans, unicorns, animals, toys, Christian and pagan iconography.
Ultimately, as Ventura suggests in the present title – Armor - angels provide protection. The present lot ranks among one of the artist’s most challenging works, demonstrating both his extraordinary finesse in capturing detail and his conversancy with the Old Masters. It also stands out as one of Ventura’s most rousing statements on identity, lending itself to multiple layers of interpretation. Sotheby’s is proud to offer this visually commanding piece, a work that is undoubtedly a profound testament to Ventura’s conceptual and technical genius.
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