The work is sprawling in scale, spanning up to three metres in length and two metres in height, which grants it a broadly cinematic perspective. It is no less evocative for its lack of colour, and Ventura constructs his scene in a spectrum of intricate shades spanning from opaque blacks to translucent whites, to elegant yet haunting effect. The figures are enclosed in a stark stone chamber, its walls marked by a network of stains and deep shifting shadow, creating a rippling sense of movement across the canvas.
This work channels his long-time preoccupation with the shape and composition of the human form, but also with human conduct or the acts they commit by extension. As such, bare bodies sprawl and dominate the canvas, showcasing picturesque reproductions of the human body in all its anatomical clarity, reminiscent of the Renaissance-era glorification of the body. However, upon closer observation, these bodies have become subtly, unsettlingly altered, such that something so intimate and familiar is now made foreign. A woman lies stretched across the table in the foreground, her form classically proportioned, and her pale skin is particularly luminous and unmarred in contrast with the grime of her surroundings. Strikingly, the woman lies next to a collection of alcohol bottles and neatly arranged fruits, while her face and all its features have been obscured by a barcode, stripping her of all her individualistic ‘identity markers’ and leaving her anonymous on the table. Above her, a suspended man hangs within empty space, prominently missing arms and his feet detached from his calf. His face too is blurred into ambiguity, with fragments of computer codes or script. The artist demonstrates his interest in the role and effects of the fast changing digital world, which increasingly integrates into real lives and society.
The left of the frame is occupied by a figure impossibly suspended in air and wrapped entirely in plastic. This very image almost seems womb-like, yet the man is full-grown and visibly constricted as he pushes and kicks to escape, but ultimately remains entrapped. Finally, the last man on the right is the only figure whose face is revealed to the viewer – albeit in side profile and rather stoic. However, this normalcy is offset by the startling two-headed horse he sits within - rather than upon. The horse’s naturalistic features are sharply juxtaposed with its intricate mechanical legs and the wheel attached to them. This whimsical creature is a product of fragmentation and later transformation, fusing together polar opposite parts to create a new imagined object. Ventura’s habit for reconstructing man and beast is a recurring theme across his career, depicting his post-modern vision of cyborgs and human-altered nature. This work is prime example of what he describes as his ‘layering of realities’ on top of each other, reproducing, then later subverting conventionally accepted images or ways of seeing them in dramatic fashion.
Ventura’s painting displays his mastery of a precise, hyper-realistic style, recreating forms with the fidelity of a photograph. His detailing of light, shadow and texture builds up the illusion of three-dimensional reality on the confines of two-dimensional space, such as where light reflects off the plastic bag’s creases, the soft folds across the tablecloth, or where the shadows cast the horses’ heads in sharp relief. Yet, this photorealism is also mingled with graffiti, digital, and pop art sensibilities throughout, creating a sense of a heightened, fantastical reality. The vertical bars of code and digital distortions are intentionally placed on the figures, just as if the scene is rendered on a glitching computer screen.
Finally, in a jarring contrast to the intricately shaded main figures, the image is punctuated by minute, cartoon-esque illustrations of both toy soldiers and cross-bearing priests in unexpected places on the periphery, and on the horse’s saddle itself. The work is rife with hidden symbolism and implicit social criticism.
In the end, Ventura’s piece first commands an audience’s attention with the richness and gravity of its images, only to progressively reveal their darker symbolic meanings. A powerful example of Ventura’s deep artistic vocabulary, the work channels the classical Western obsession with perfect forms, only for him to viciously subvert them in service of his larger social consciousness, showing how ideal beauty becomes deconstructed or distorted. Human Study is an award-winning display of the artist’s technical and thematic boldness, establishing him as an icon of Southeast Asian contemporary art.
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