Transformer: Ronald Ventura, with his Gundam-centric painting, employs a different approach in his latest artworks for his “Comic Lives” exhibition at Whitestone Ginza New Gallery in Tokyo.
Photos by Avee Navarro Tan
Feed your head: Ronald Ventura takes viewers to a wander-land in first Tokyo show
ARTMAGEDDON - Igan D’Bayan (The Philippine Star) - January 21, 2019 - 12:00am

That stretch of Ginza in Tokyo with plush restaurants and elegant offices got its dose of a stun of colors and a startle of images late last year. Passersby maybe even wondered if it was the blue pill or the red pill that they took that day which made them wander into this particular artist’s version of the heady currents of events. Remember what the dormouse said?

Stone immaculate: Whitestone Gallery New Ginza juts out from the area’s upmarket boutiques and sushi bars.

In Ronald Ventura’s latest suite of paintings on view from Dec. 14, 2018 to Jan. 13, 2019 at Whitestone Ginza New Gallery, there is a marked, much-deliberated-upon, blatantly executed overlapping of realities, of imagery.

“Comic Lives 2” by Ronald Ventura

In strategies past, the artist sought to make the transitions from one set of images onto the next smoothly and seamlessly — even if Bugs, Mickey and other cartoon characters (or even texts and geometric constructs) are intruding into an orgy of hyperrealistic figures. Think Hieronymus Bosch- or Caravaggio-like figures stumbling upon a glitch in the matrix or a skit that is tunefully loony. Smoothening was king, then.

Ventura’s “Comic Lives” artworks

Now, for Ventura, sharpness informs the artistic strategy. There is no enhancement of what is “in-between” images. The artist said it is like perusing a magazine or watching fast-cut edited videos. There is bound to be some overlapping, with raw images bleeding into each other. And the gulf, graphically, is wide. In some of the paintings, anime eyes and hair are — “superimposed” is not the word we are looking for here — collaged or overlaid on hyperrealistically drawn images of women, statues or even (as meta as it sounds) “paintings.” A cutesy unicorn and comical Donald Duck with a gun intrude upon an image of an astronaut floating in space (2001: A Space Odyssey meets My Little Pony) and a wiry guy in mid-toke (Donald ready for a bit of the old ultraviolence).

Artist Miwa Komatsu, Whitestone CEO Koei Shiraishi

“This is how real life is,” according to Ventura. “Fast, instant and disconcerting.”

He shared his observations. Every day we are bombarded with a diarrhea of imagery: the dizzying number of channels on cable TV, the world wide web, distressful signals from our omniscient mobile phones, etc. Take the case of online shopping sites, he said. At your fingertips are an endless array of items you can buy — access is instant, choices are infinite, and decision-making is within seconds. This is the tragic-comic aspect in today’s life. 

Ronald Ventura is flanked by author Igan D’Bayan and artist-curator Ruel Caasi.

Thus, his recent exhibition is billed as “Comic Lives.” You can read “Lives” either as noun or as verb — with the meaning dramatically changing, but the intention of the artist remaining the same. Do people lead more comical lives nowadays? Or are comic books being enfleshed in the lives of everyone. Makes us wonder.

Sotheby’s executive Mok Kim Chuan, Koei, Ventura, Whitestone Taipei director Sophie Su

Koei Shiraishi, Whitestone CEO, remarked, “I remember the first time I saw Ventura-san’s work. It was at Christie’s and I was walking by — I saw a huge painting of a beautiful tiger.” Koei and company bid on it, but unfortunately someone else won in the end. “This show at Whitestone is a chance for our mature collectors who are into Gutai art as well as Japanese art lovers in general to see for themselves the works of an important contemporary artist. Soon, in the future, these paintings will become historically important pieces.”

Whitestone chairman Yukio Shiraishi

Ventura purposely employs Japanese pop cultural references (Naruto, Pokemon, etc.) alongside their counterpart in America, so as to underscore the overlapping of cultures prevalent in today’s world. He also peppers emojis in one of the paintings to draw attention as to how these things have intruded into the way we communicate. A testament to the power of images and the mutability of language, perhaps? Or the reduction of everything into ubiquitous ciphers — hieroglyphics for millennials.

Avee Navarro Tan

Speaking of mutability, the female figures in his latest work are overlaid with anime-like features, which was inspired by Ventura’s observations as to how certain individuals will go to great lengths to resemble or even mimic or morph into, er, who… the dysmorphic list is endless. Barbie. Superman. Jessica Rabbit. An elf. A vampire. A genderless alien. A Kardashian. Some Shapchat filters.

Icco Yoshimura, Taro Yakumo, Megumi Hoshihara, Ahhi Choi

When these surgical-procedure marvels (let us not bandy about the word “monstrosities” here) start to outnumber relatively normal us — explained Ronald — they will become the new norm, and we will be relegated to Otherness. In a process of reverse alienation, so to speak. An episode of Twilight Zone awaits us at the end of the tunnel. It is “Eye of the Beholder” starring you and me. The doctors are in. Lights out.

Whitestone art advisor Nobuo Tachibana

The man is never didactic, though. Ronald Ventura always stresses that his works are merely suggestions. It depends entirely on the viewer (with his or her circumstance and body of biases) as to how each painting is regarded, appraised and interpreted. But the way technology and consumerism have usurped large chunks of our everyday lives (happening everywhere from Tonsuya to Tokyo), it would seem that we are becoming mere observers, shoppers and stimulus junkies in the grand scheme of things.

Kisei Takahashi

Unreliable narrators in our own strange, comic-like narratives.  

Kaori Ohno

*   *   *

Whitestone Ginza New Gallery is at 6-4-16 Ginza, Chuo-ku Tokyo, 104-0061, Japan. For information, visit whitestone-gallery.com.

COMIC LIVES RONALD VENTURA WHITESTONE GINZA NEW GALLERY
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