Hubert Burda Media

The Human Camera

Photographic memory is one thing but photographic rendering? That’s the forte of LUCIANO VENTRONE, whose hand-etched paintings are so real they might as well have been captured on film. By Low Shi Ping

To the average Singaporean who holidays at least once a year, the revelation that Luciano Ventrone hasn’t gone on one for 50 years is understandably difficult to comprehend. “It’s boring,” he declares.
Instead, the Italian artist prefers to hole up in one of his two ateliers in Rome and L’Aquila and paint, often times for up to 18 uninterrupted hours a day. From the other end of his brush emerge still life, landscapes and portraits so real they look like photographs. Even when you put your nose up against the smooth canvas, the lack of brush strokes is apparent — a technique Ventrone has taken decades to master.
“It’s a special gift,” says Cesare Biasini Selvaggi, who curated his show at the Casino dei Principi of Villa Torlonia in Rome — the very same one that is now available to view on our shores at Partners & Mucciaccia Gallery in Gillman Barracks. “He’s like a monk. A monk prays, Ventrone paints.”
But more than that, it is the meticulous attention to detail that the 71-year-old depicts in each of his pieces. Nothing goes unnoticed, warts and all. Take for example, The Oracle. At first glance, it looks like a basket of lemons, but closer examination reveals the course texture of the fruits, the distortion of their shapes, and with the one that is sliced open, the dehydrated pulp and the fine fibres that protrude out of the skin.
When it comes to still lifes, he enlists the help of his wife to compose each set-up — be it with fruits or flowers — before illuminating it with artificial light and then taking photographs of it. The image gets projected onto the linen where he then draws the outline of the composition. After dividing the canvas into a matrix, he starts to fill in the spaces with colours using his assortment of brushes, the finest of which has only one bristle.
The perfectionist in him can sometimes take up to 10 years to complete a single painting. “Sometimes we curators have to tell him to stop working on it because it is more than ready to be sold or exhibited,” says Selvaggi.
Often compared to the celebrated 17th-century Renaissance Italian artist Caravaggio, Ventrone says he picks his subjects purely by instinct. Through his works and their very philosophical names (such as The Three Ages, Disagreements and Fragility), he hopes to pass on his interpretation of the origin of life. “It’s not just about the fruits,” he explains.
First exposed to colours at the age of three, he was sent at five to reside with Metha Petersen, a well-to-do lady in Denmark, who heaped gifts upon him among which was a box of paints. Even in school, his talent was recognised by his teachers. Since then, he hasn’t turned back. He delved into abstract art in his early years and only started developing his current style of figurative art in the mid-1980s.
“Ventrone has been mastering his technique day by day. He is one of the few artists who really know how to use the brush to paint. There is no one in the world who can reach his level,” says Valter Spano, a director at the gallery. It perhaps explains why despite the current contemporary art craze, there are still so many fans of his works. “This is an artist who knows what he’s doing. And people are a little bit tired of conceptual art,” adds Spano.
Unfortunately, being so dedicated to his craft has taken a toll on his health. His eyesight has weakened and his hands are no longer as steady as they used to be. In fact, he paints with the help of a pole, resting his arm on it for stability: “I want to go on painting for years and years but it is more difficult now, although that is not a good reason to stop. I want to die holding a brush in my hand.”
Sui Generi/s by Luciano Ventrone will be on from now to July 2 at Partners & Mucciaccia Gallery, Gillman Barracks.