Manok Ventura, in his latest exhibit at West Gallery, titled, Refuge, captures fragments of history in hyper-realistic detail. For him, travelling around Manila to see the traces of these old structures has never been more fun. He appreciates the serenity, the shelter, and the protection they provided amid turmoil and uncertainty, as well as their ability to withstand adversary from all sides and the passage of time. Creatively, they bring him fresh inspiration to represent and preserve the past in a world that is moving too fast. Viewers can relax and absorb the change of scenery.
Done in black and white, the oil paintings are a throwback to a bygone era. Yet Ventura is able to leave his own modern imprint, allowing each element in the composition to come alive through distinctive tonal values and rich textures. Of the entire collection, only one piece, “Stacked,” is blown up to a larger than life proportion. Perhaps Ventura believed it demonstrated the painstakingly meticulous process he subjected himself to every time he went to paint. Each brick is finely rendered to depict the passage of time and the ensuing effect on the structure. Meanwhile, “Hiding Place” shows the bigger picture, as if one is zooming out to see what else is out there.
Likewise, “Teared,” “Tainted,” and “Aftermath 3” emphasize the gradual damage due to exposure to different elements. Most people might not even notice them, but Ventura has the eye to create something new out of the old, creatively cropping the image to focus on a certain spot, smudge, or crack that produces the biggest visual impact.
Such keen attention to detail is again displayed in “Sanctuary,” featuring the façade of what appears to be a religious institution. Ventura is adept at playing around with the available space, moving it around to suit his objective, which is seen even in the manner he hangs his paintings in the gallery. He does it to allow the viewer to see what he sees, or to interpret it from a totally different perspective.
The key to his approach is not merely copying the images captured by his camera, but in the way he transfers them into the canvas, adding a new dimension to the surviving structures, as if letting them tell us their unique stories.