Books & Art

Double Vision: BenCab x Ronald Ventura is the Must-Have Art Book of the Year

When giants unite.
IMAGE SECRET FRESH
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Late last year, Secret Fresh Gallery unveiled an art collaboration between Benedicto “BenCab” Cabrera and Ronald Ventura, two of the most prominent names in contemporary art in the Philippines. The project was called “BenCab x Ronald Ventura,” which produced six designs for limited edition digital prints that each artist initially worked on separately and then combined digitally to produce a truly collaborative piece of art. 

To commemorate the milestone event, Secret Fresh launched a coffee table book that provides a behind-the-scenes look at the epic collaboration. Double Vision: BenCab X Ronald Ventura, written by Igan D’Bayan and with book design by Lloyd Nelson Jinon, provides the backstory of how the two masters of contemporary art agreed to collaborate on a suite of digital artworks for an exhibition that was on view at Ronac Art Center in October last year. It was a historic show, a one-off, the likes of which might never be repeated.

Photo by Secret Fresh.
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“It is a testament to the possibility of making two artistic worlds meet, without conflict or friction,” Secret Fresh owner Bigboy Cheng says. “It would not be a collaboration in every sense of the word if there was no chemistry or if the mindsets of the involved parties did not jibe at all. What began with a toying of an idea, ended up as a meeting of the minds.”  

Curator Ruel Caasi characterizes the works as the fusion of two trailblazing visions in Philippine art depicting a world in a state of flux.

“It was Bigboy’s idea to document the BenCab x Ronald Ventura collaboration at Secret Fresh,” Igan D’Bayan tells Esquire Philippines. “Bigs, together with curator Ruel Caasi and Ventura, decided that I should be the one to write the art book. We’ve all been friends for so long and worked on so many other projects. And BenCab has always been a mentor and a gracious interviewee.”

D’Bayan added that putting the book together was a challenge in itself. “Our idea was not to create another discardable coffee-table book on art. We wanted it to reflect the unique vision of the two artists. In Double Vision, both BenCab and Ronald Ventura revealed the genesis of their craft. When the young BenCab’s family moved to Bambang in 1954, he sold comic books door to door and hand towels to jeepney drivers. At Arellano High School, he drew portraits of James Dean and Elvis Presley and sold them to schoolmates for P10. 

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Photo by Secret Fresh.

“At age five, Ronald didn’t even know the rest of the alphabet yet but he could already draw intricate Japanese robots,” he adds. “When he was in high school in Malabon, he filled bulletin boards with portraits of Michael Jackson and Billy Idol deftly executed in pencil and charcoal. The rest, as they say, is art history.”

D’Bayan says that the readers of the book will get the lowdown on how the dream collaboration became a reality. And it comes in two collectible dustcover variants—one by BenCab, one by Ronald Ventura. 

“The book designer (Lloyd Nelson Jinon) and I had this idea of turning Double Vision as an alternative to all those run-of-the-mill art books you would normally encounter, stuff collecting dust and years in grandpa’s library,” he says. “We wanted ours to rock.”

When the book was written and published, the pandemic was already raging, so logistics were very challenging. D’Bayan says that the long lockdowns were such a drag, “but we were able to manage. I talked to BenCab over the phone when he was in Baguio one morning after he had just finished working on his coffee farm. I talked to Ronald in his studio one night while surrounded by his murals of Dobermans and decapitated dolls. Since we could not meet up due to the different variants of community quarantine, there were a lot of back-and-forth online. I guess that is the new abnormal nowadays.”

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We asked D’Bayan what he thinks are the most notable differences between the two artists.

“Let me answer that by offering these lines from the book: ‘A dot by Ronald Ventura is the origin of imagined spaces filled with human-animal hybrids, women with immaculately alabaster limbs, cyber-classical, anime-baroque mashups. The fairy tales of our future, the aftermath of all tomorrow’s parties…A dot by BenCab is the origin of imaginary landscapes filled with migrants, laborers, farmers, the salt of the earth, as well as women who have conquered turmoil and tribulation. The hymns, psalms and the grand marches of all our yesterdays, the whys and wherefores of our race. And in that collaborative show at Secret Fresh, those two dots intersected.” 

The limited-edition book comes with two dust-cover variants; one by BenCab, one by Ronald Ventura. Double Vision (P2,900) is available at Secret Fresh. For information, visit Secret Fresh on Facebook, Instagram and on https://secretfresh.com.ph/

 

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