Design

The Private Rooftop Garden This Artist Calls His 'Decompression Chamber'

Artist Ronald Ventura finds solace in the lush garden atop his Manila home.
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Ronald Ventura grew up in Tonsuya, in the seaside town of Malabon. He remembers searching the empty lots and water canals of his hometown for earthworms, spiders, and other messy things that little boys are fond of. He recalls his grandmother scolding him, his brothers, and friends for these proclivities: “She would call us ‘hayop,’ literally ‘animal,’ the catch-all term of disapproval.”

Had he listened, we would not now enjoy his quirky sculptural creations: human forms with animal parts, or animals with human extremities. It is the artist asking: “What is human, and what is animal?” But little boys hardly ever listen, especially to squeamish adults. They have a world of their own: fertile and creative; different. Not for them the sterile cleanliness that breeds no life.


Unicorns may be fictional but you can find one in Ronald Ventura's garden.


Some of the strange animals in the artist's home

Early on, Ronald knew that he wanted to draw, as much to express himself, as to give life to the forms and figures imagined by his inquisitive mind. In grade school, painter Fernando Sena started drawing sessions for children that honed the budding artist’s native talents. In high school, Ronald continued to draw, eventually deciding to enroll in the College of Fine Arts of the University of Santo Tomas.

After graduating, Ronald taught for close to a decade at UST, occasionally participating in painting contests. A consistent prizewinner in national competitions, Ronald’s star was on the rise from the mid-'90s, onward. He won the 13 Artists Award in 2003, and the then-new but prestigious Ateneo Art Award in 2005, which came with an art residency in Sydney, Australia. In recent years, Ronald has become the darling of the art auction circuit, setting records every year. First noticed for his signature hyper-realistic works, he continues to impress an international audience of fans and collectors with canvases and sculptural pieces that bring together his impeccable artistry, Filipino roots, and a unique world view.

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Art sculptures straight out of a dream

More than the economic rewards of being a successful artist, however, Ronald takes greatest pride in being a young artist who is opening windows and doors for Philippine art in major art markets around the world. “It is only right that the world is now paying attention to our art, and paying the right price for the genius and vision of our fellow Filipinos,” he says.

Success has not gone to his head. He built a modest house—three floors because of the limited space, with the garden on the roof deck for the same reason. He shares the house with his wife, Mitch, who operates a printing and graphic design business, and their son Rain, now famous in his own right, being the subject of many paintings. The proud parents tell the story of a flight to Cebu: A plane passenger recognized Rain from the paintings before making the connection that Ronald must be the famous artist.

The garden welcomes the first rays of sunrise, and bids farewell to the setting sun at the end of the day.


Ronald Ventura and his wife, Mitch


“We don’t need nightmares,” says the artist, when asked about his inspiration for these unique sculptural pieces. “Everyday life is full of nightmarish experiences.”

Designed and executed by Ronald’s good friend, landscape artist Bob Gopiao, the roof garden makes full use of the space. The covered area is set at an angle, with a seating area under a thick steel roof, and a dining table under a C-channel frame canopy with honeycomb pattern in yellow fiberglass. The raised flooring is of teak, perfect for going barefoot.


An outdoor view of Ronald's three-floor home


“I wanted to create both a place for entertaining, and a backdrop for Ronald’s art,” says Bob of the garden, densely packed with more than a dozen varieties of ferns, plants, and flowers. The garden follows the east-west axis, welcoming the first rays of sunrise, as well as bidding farewell to the setting sun at the end of the day. Ronald calls it his “decompression chamber,” where he goes up to rest, and enjoy the view, especially on full moon nights. “I am reminded of the clear skies of my childhood, when life was simple, but rich with the stuff that make life a joy.”

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Aside from the plants, unique sculptural pieces by the artist animate the airy garden setting: a winged Santo Niño with an astronaut’s helmet, a rhinoceros with human feet, a bigger than lifesize standing mouse, a white unicorn, a pair of black and white fiberglass bulol (rice granary guardians found in the Mountain Province), among other unique creatures. Asked if these images are the result of nightmares, the artist quips: “We do not need nightmares; look around you—everyday life is full of nightmarish experiences.”


A pair of lifesize mice that add to the menagerie of creatures on Ventura's roofdeck 


The winged Sto. Nino with an astronaut's head and angel wings

The centerpiece is a massive self-portrait first carved on wood, and a bigger version cast in resin that shows Ronald in the nude: an adult fetus amid the lush greenery.

True to his Malabon roots, the artist and his wife prepare a simple repast of puto and pancit complemented by roast pork liempo. Arriving from school, Rain goes around kissing the hands of the guests.


Art at every corner of this private space


Under the honeycomb-shaped canopy, the Venturas set up a dining table laden with objects that make for great dinner conversation.

Ronald Ventura celebrates a life devoted to his family, and his art, as he lives in a quiet neighborhood, not far from his original studio of years past, still close to the pulse and routine of life that inspires and suffuses his art.

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