The New Jersey-based artist Rob Ventura caught my eye on Instagram last year. I don’t typically follow artists on Instagram- especially ones that only post images of their work- because it can get a bit boring, or too self-promotional. I like following feeds that keep the content more diverse, like Ventura’s. His feed was mostly populated with witty posts of art he was seeing with rap lyrics in the captions interspersed with some of his work. A mutual follow soon turned into a constant stream of DMs, and eventually, we graduated to texting and met IRL. It was a truly millennial beginning to what is now both a blossoming friendship and symbiotic professional relationship.
Rob Ventura: I started titling the pieces after poisonous flowers. I’d finish a painting, do a google search, then title the piece after a plant it embodied. I liked the ying-yang metaphor of the poisonous plant, something that’s both beautiful and destructive. It was somewhat of a post-hoc effort to make sense of the work. But, the whole idea has circled around to generate ideas for subsequent efforts.
Previous: Rob Ventura and Nina Blumberg in front of a sculpture by Joel Shapiro at Paula Cooper Gallery. Above: Rob Ventura, Black Henbane.
You’ve mostly shown large abstract paintings, but you produce artwork in a range of other media. Can you talk about that?
Sure. Painting has definitely been my primary focus. But, last year in my building we opened up a ceramics studio and I started making small, coral-like ceramics vessels. I’ve pushed the ceramics further and they’ve since become integral within my overall practice. Also, over the past year, I’ve developed new oil pastel pieces and charcoal drawings. I like the way these pieces blend drawing and painting. And, they’ve helped me to flesh out ideas about the whole plant cosmology I’m working within.
Do you have a favorite medium to work in overall, or as of right now?
I think they all dialogue well together, whether its a painting, ceramic vessel, or drawing…and, it also helps me structure my practice on a day-to-day basis. Different mediums require their own kinds effort/energy/investment, so it helps to be able to cycle through things depending on how I’m feeling or what’s going on. And, while I still really see myself as a painter, everyone I discuss my work with has their personal favorite thing. So, I try to be democratic about it…
Rob Ventura, Mitochondria K.
So you’re an artist first and foremost but you also manage a gallery space. How do you think this contrast of art-world roles has influenced your experience as an artist?
Well, I started by working at the desk for one of the larger galleries in Chelsea. I got to meet a lot of people in the arts and I would see a lot of shows on my lunch break. Also, literally twice a week someone would approach me at the gallery like, “Hey….great eyebrows!”. So, I’m glad I’ve got that going for me.
Honestly, if you have great eyebrows in our cultural climate, you’re pretty much set for life…
But yeah, all jokes aside- I’m currently the gallery manager at PROTO Gallery where I wear a variety of hats, primarily as a liaison and curator. I think it’s helped me a lot, honestly. My work is definitely what I’m most committed to. But, my other experiences have helped me connect with all kinds of people. It’s made me more socially fluid.
Speaking of socially fluid, you’re very active on social media. In fact, we met through Instagram. Do you have a specific posting strategy for your Instagram?
Personally, I find the things people say on Instagram captions to be hysterical–people take themselves way too seriously!
Yeah, totally. How do you distinguish yourself from that ‘too serious’ Instagrammer vibe?
I started posting random lyrics from over-the-top Soundcloud rap songs. I think of it as a surrealist text cut up–when they would rearrange random lines of text with strange and revealing results. Something about the juxtaposition of Lil Yachty and Donald Judd appeals to me. Honestly, I have more fun posting IG stories, mostly memes and overindulging my inner monologue (which is basically a meme).
What are your thoughts on memes?
My favorite meme is this rapper named Viper who released 347 albums in 2014. It’s amazing. The guy is a walking self-perpetuated meme. A true performance artist par excellence. And, honestly, I just admire his hustle…
Do you have any fave Instagram accounts? You can’t say your own.
Rob Ventura, Fire Lily (Gloriosa Superba).
Hahaha, I see what you did there! Are you reading anything right now, art-related or other? Does anything you read ever influence your art-making?
I tend towards existentialist philosophy and depth psychology. I’m reading a psychology book by Ernest Becker right now called “The Denial of Death.” There’s a great scene in “Annie Hall” when Woody Allen and Diane Keaton’s characters break up and she is relieved to give him back that book. It’s really good though. Becker’s argument is that the driving motive of human behavior is to gain some sense of immortality through our personal endeavors, to feel like we’ve made some lasting contribution. So, I guess ultimately that’s why we unconsciously do things–especially as artists–to try and outlive ourselves somehow. But, I try to take things in stride. Like, I could be just as happy managing a falafel stand as I am being an artist.
I guess ultimately that’s why we unconsciously do things–especially as artists–to try and outlive ourselves somehow.
Ah, so your studies go deeper than Viper memes. How do you view your artistic practice in relation to your audience?
That’s a great question. I always liked Robert Rauschenberg’s axiom about ‘the gap between art and life’. Meaning that artmaking is something more than simply creating aesthetic objects–it’s an ontological way of being in the world that involves your ability to create something with cultural resonance. So, generally speaking, I think it comes down to the artist’s authenticity and the way that unconsciously projects into the world. In other words, it’s kind of like asking Miles Davis how to be cool…
So what’s up next for you project-wise?
I am prepping for a solo show with MEN Gallery in their LES/Chinatown location. It will likely be a mixed media show towards the fall. Stay tuned.