Lot 1076
  • 1076


2,000,000 - 3,000,000 HKD
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Ronald Ventura
  • Human Study
  • graphite on canvas 
  • 245 by 365 cm; 96 1/4  by 143 1/2  in.
  • executed in 2005


Ateneo Art Awards, Ateneo Art Gallery, The Philippines
Studio Residency Grant, Sydney, Australia
Private Collection, Philippines
Acquired by the present owner from the above
Private Asian Collection


Sydney, Australia, The Cross Arts Project, Human Study, 5-20 November 2005
Mandaluyong City, The Philippines, The Art Center Megamall, Human Study, April 2005
Quezon City, Ateneo de Manila University, Ateneo Art Gallery, Cross Encounters: The 2005 Ateneo Art Awards Exhibition
Makati City, Rockwell Center, Power Plant Mall,Cross Encounters: The 2005 Ateneo Art Awards Exhibition
Jakarta, Indonesia, Akili Museum, A Journal of the Plague Year, October 2015


Realities, Ronald Ventura, Grafiche Damiani, Bologna Italy, 2011, p. 30 and 31
Alice G. Guillermo, “Dreams and Nightmares: Ronald Ventura’s Human Study”, The Cross Arts Projects, Sydney, Australia


This work is in good overall condition as viewed. There is light hairline craquelure to the gesso located above the left upper thigh of the reclining female figure, in the extreme lower abdomen, along the right edge and in the area between the black border and the nuns at the bottom right side of the work. However, these do not affect the overall image as they are only visible upon very close inspection and under bright light. All other inconsistencies are due to the artist's working method. Unframed, on a stretcher.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Ronald Ventura’s Human Study (2005) is a work of big, bold iconography paired alongside the smallest details. A cornerstone example of Ventura’s distinctive, heterogeneous artistic style, Sotheby’s is honoured to present his work for auction this season, this piece having won the 2005 Ateneo Art Award for Visual Arts – one of the Philippines’ most prestigious awards for modern art – and has been publicly exhibited in both the Ateneo Art Museum, Manila and the Art Center in SM Megamall, Quezon City as part of his exhibition Human Study. Born in Manila in 1975, Ventura has rapidly established himself as one of Southeast Asia’s most audacious contemporary artists, integrating pressing social phenomena into a diversified range of images and expressions – whether it be European old master traditions, pop culture or caricatures. The present work portrays a sweeping scene of disarray, all rendered in his signature monochrome palette and disorientingly realist method. It is especially distinctive and rare for his use of graphite on canvas, eschewing his customary oils in favour of graphite’s opacity, but yet this piece still retains the signature blending and fluidity of his oil efforts. 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.