'April is the cruelest month...,' announced T.S. Eliot in his post-Spanish flu poem, The Waste Land (1922); Virginia Woolf sent her influenza survivor protagonist, Clarissa, to buy the flowers herself in Mrs. Dalloway (1925). During the same pandemic, Egon Schiele and Edvard Munch reached the canvas to depict their auto-portraits, tinted by uncertainty, paranoia, and malady.
Perrotin welcomes visitors to Creature Comforts, the gallery's fifth exhibition with American painter Hernan Bas, featuring thirteen new paintings the artist has created since March at his Miami studio. A sense of poetic tension prevails the works Bas painted in various scales that range from larger-than-life to intimate, reflecting the broad palette of sentiments experienced by his paintings' protagonists. A signature in the artist's unabashedly gilded universe, a suit of young adult men populate borderline surreal mises en scène with angst remnant from teenage years and fragility towards the impending manhood. Equally persistent and delicate, blasé twinks gingerly execute flamboyant acts—they flirt with danger, waltz with death, and huddle with pain. Their aloof expressions contradict with the ardor they deliver within each scenario that maneuvers between absurd and perilous. Overall, they challenge our oh-so relished quarantine comforts, ornately transcended in Bas's brushstrokes from mundane to baroque.
Elegance and demise are balanced in Dinner hour at the Little Shop of Horrors, in which a boy's green gloves grasp a metal chain elevating an animal carcass inside a nursery for carnivorous plants. He satisfies the demurely barbarian plants' hunger for flesh, not with the enormous slab of meat, but with flies tempted by the smell of the raw cut, depicted here à la Chaim Soutine. In Hot Seat, stakes for risk are high, as well as the length of a serpent draping from the ceiling and nestle around a boy's neck. A scarlet shade of red washes the room where a terrarium with a host of reptiles occupies the background. A scorching lamp and the boy's matching-coloured shirt complete the inferno Bas illuminates with inspiration from Munch's Self-Portrait in Hell (1903). Sanguine hues echo in Three Vampires and Nectar (or the hummingbird enthusiast), evidently in A+ type blood two boys preserve in medical bags to nourish their pet bat in the former, yet deceptively in the latter. Here, nectar-filled bottles suspend from the branches of a lush tree, perched by a jubilant youngster also feeding his pet avian, a purple-headed hummingbird. A young gentleman seeks shelter behind a sheer veil in How Best to Suffer Swamp Life at Dusk, masking his blue eyes under a ghostly net shrouding over an umbrella against greedy mosquitos. Sheer yet resilient, the veil is already dotted with bugs unable to devour the boy for his blood. Similar to the exhibition's other subjects, the boy is positioned between discomfort and posture, wilfully assuming a precarious position in a duello with natural critters.
After nearly two decades since Bas started painting them, the boys—modern day Ganymede's, Tadzio's and Elio's—signal passage into maturity, reflected in their selfless and fatally generous gestures. These young men embrace risks at the expense of their beauty, which has been both their armour and ornament. Once indulgent aesthetes and wistful romantics, they, now, sacrifice their vital fluids or forego their dwellings in attempts to accommodate comforts of creatures they daringly hold dear. In Adult Security Blanket, one fashions his all-black attire with a royal blue blanket, emblazoned with: 'Adult security blanket. If lost return to D. Bell,' based on a thrift store find in Bas's collection for over a decade. The box of the original blanket, which is not depicted in the painting, reads: 'When all seems to fail, try this 'true companion' for comforting consolation...'
Text by Osman Can Yerebakan (New York, September, 2020). Courtesy Perrotin.