Captured at various thresholds – between youth and adulthood, innocence and experience, public and private realms – and situated within a shifting terrain of interior and exterior spaces, the figures in Hernan Bas’ paintings are charged with potential. Bringing to mind poles of intellect and physicality, the androgynous young men in these paintings engage in rituals of courtship, love and death that seem to be based on a theatrical exaggeration of emotion. The construction of identity and dispersal of meaning are rendered thematically and pictorially fraught. Bas embellishes and destabilises as he describes, his brushwork often threatening to engulf, his colours edging towards over-ripe or chemical hues suggestive of transformation or intoxication.Read More
Clearly there are literary precursors at play - in particular the Decadent writings of Joris-Karl Huysmans and Oscar Wilde are evoked. There's also a keen sense both of the pleasures and the limits of a queer vocabulary which, often thought of as demarcating a space of resistance through the awareness of double meanings and the construction of codes, is unlocked by Bas to welcome major motifs from the art historical canon. Reclaiming some of art's grand themes and spotlighting the degree of role-play that necessarily accompanies any new interpretation, Bas invites us to revel in a liberating sense of flux that, as much as it applies to the nascent identity of the youths he paints, alludes to the creative act itself.
In recent works Bas extends his long interest in and exploration of the decorative arts, in particular rethinking and examining unique interiors. Paintings and works on paper from the series Memphis Living, 2014, are in part an homage to the designs of the short-lived Memphis Group founded in Milan by architect and designer Ettore Sottsass. These are designs Bas first encountered predominantly through their pop cultural references and simulations. Memphis styles became firmly rooted in Bas' pre-teenage subconsciousness, attesting to the prevalence of the "Memphis look" on the big and small screen in films like Tim Burton's Beetlejuice or kids' TV show Pee-wee's Playhouse, and through it he explores the idea of the artificial versus the real, the notion of the false being more authentic than actuality (concepts which Bas links to another early influence, Huysmans' Against Nature).
Memphis Living, Bas' 2014 exhibition spanning Victoria Miro and Victoria Miro Mayfair, coincided with the publication by Rizzoli, New York of HERNAN BAS: a lavish monograph that is the most comprehensive publication devoted to the artist's career to date. With over 200 colour plates and with texts by Christian Rattemeyer, Jonathan Griffin, and an interview with Nancy Spector.
The artist's 2017 exhibition at Victoria Miro Mayfair was inspired by the lore and romanticism of life at Cambridge. Following a period of research while in residence at Jesus College Cambridge in 2016, Bas developed new subject matter including the famed 'Night Climbers of Cambridge’, a group of students whose nocturnal ascents of the ancient buildings of the university and town, taking photographs while trying to avoid detection, gained them a cult following during the early decades of the twentieth century.
Loosely based on vintage men’s fashion magazine covers, the artist's most recent work depicts male ‘cover stars’ surrounded by a choreographed array of artefacts, accessories and architectural elements that point to the idea of identity and meaning as being collage-like in their construction and dispersal. Permeated by an aura of eroticism and decadence, and loaded with codes and double-meanings, the works further point to the intricacies of self-identity, while celebrating moments of transformation – the ordinary becoming extraordinary.
Hernan Bas, born in Miami, Florida in 1978, lives and works in Detroit, Michigan and Miami, Florida. The artist's recent solo exhibitions include Florida Living, staged at the SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah in 2017. In 2012 Bas opened The Other Side at the Kunstverein Hannover, the artist's first institutional solo show within Europe. A major survey of the artist's work previously opened at the Rubell Family Collection, Miami, in 2007 and toured to the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 2009. Other exhibitions include On the Horizon: Contemporary Cuban Art from the Jorge M. Pérez Colletion, Pérez Art Museum, Miami, 2017; A Sum of its Parts, Polk Museum of Art, Florida, 2016; Tracing Shadows, Plateau, Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul, 2015; Aquatopia, The Imaginary of the Ocean Deep, at Nottingham Contemporary and subsequently travelling to Tate St. Ives, 2013-2014; TIME, Bass Museum of Art, Miami, 2013; Nightfall, MODEM Centre for Contemporary Art, Hungary, travelling to Galerie Rudolfinum, Prague, 2012; Contemporary Magic: A Tarot Deck Art Project, Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, 2011; Nothing in the World But Youth, Turner Contemporary, Margate, 2011; Busan Biennale, Korea (2008); Like Color in Pictures, Aspen Art Museum, 2007; Ideal Worlds-New Romanticism in Contemporary Art, Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt, 2005; Whitney Biennial (2004); and The Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, 2002. Bas' work was also included in The Collectors, curated by Elmgreen & Dragset at Nordic and Danish Pavilions, Venice Biennale (2009).
Text courtesy Victoria Miro.
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