Hernan Bas at the Galerie Perrotin, young dreamers and flowers unveiled
With his peep show still lifes and young men who look like they’ve just walked off a Hedi Slimane catwalk currently on show at the Galerie Perrotin, American artist Hernan Bas’ figurative paintings are much less conventional than they might at first seem.
The cast of a Hedi Slimane menswear show lost inside dreamy landscapes with a fin de siècle aesthetic… This sort of anachronistic evocation and fantastical encounter has always populated the paintings of Hernan Bas ever since they started appearing at the cusp of the 2000s. When the artist showed his exhibition “Slim Fast” in Miami, his style was instantly recognisable. In stark contrast to the exaggerated virility typically celebrated in the capital of Florida, this artist fills his canvases – which appear suspended in time – with neurasthenic dreamers and homo-erotic modern-day dandies. His inspiration, he acknowledges, also comes from fashion magazines – particularly when Hedi Slimane was thrusting a new masculinity into the limelight with its slight physique and gaunt features, far from the canons of beauty of the 1990s. Hernan Bas also embodies an element of the zeitgeist with this return to figurative painting. He’s used it to plunge ever deeper into the worlds of Oscar Wilde and Edgar Allan Poe with references to classical painting. The artist leaves Miami for Detroit and while abstract painting floods the art marker, his works continues to garner interest. This is probably due to his success in bringing his landscapes, portraits and surreal, bucolic interiors into new lands. Now the works have become denser, more experimental, mixing up figurative and abstraction… With a more complex renewed vocabulary – for the first time he’s showing still lifes with something of a 19th century peep show about them – Hernan Bas continues to tell stories, like so many dreams, filled with enigmatic ambiguity.
Numéro: The show "Fruits and Flowers" on at the Galerie Perrotin until December 19th marks a notable evolution in your oeuvre. Why stop the literary references?
Hernan Bas: For the last two years I’ve become more interested in painting itself, in the way that Matisse worked his motifs for example, but also in Pierre Bonnard. His paintings, showing scenes from daily life (children in the park, women taking their bath), helped my approach to evolve. I wanted to tell my own stories. So instead of drawing sources for my tableaux from literature, I turned to the ordinary day-to-day of a rural America, kids hanging out (a pie eating contest, apple bobbing…). I feel this puts my paintings into present time.
This is also the first time you’re showing a series of still lifes, completely unheard of in your work.
I started developing this passion for still lifes, floral in particular, and the way they’ve been viewed over the years. Finally I decided to have a go myself. I went to the market; I bought flowers, very traditional bouquets… And of course the result was way too classic (laughs)! Too simple. Too easy. So then I came up with the idea of covering them with a blind. I didn’t want to make them disappear either; I’d spent way too long painting them! So you end up with this game of disclosure and concealment… The paintings changed their nature and turned into a sort of peep show (laughs).
Did you want to deflower your paintings?
I realised that flowers have this very powerful erotic charge. We immediately think of Mapplethorpe’s photographs… The flower as the symbol of the female sex. But the flowers themselves are also incredibly sexual. Look at the way they reproduce, in this cross over way, as they share the pollen between them…
Some of your paintings contain abstract motifs. Have you never been tempted to follow the wave of abstraction that’s been sweeping the art world for the last few years?
The abstract elements in my painting correspond with the moment when I wanted to have fun with them (laughs). There was a time, maybe six or seven years ago, when I did think about going abstract. And then it just never happened. And I don’t regret it because that’s what everyone else does now. I feel like that’s all I ever see.
You seem generally more interested in classical European art history than the major American movements of the 20th century.
I was born in 1978 in Miami, and believe me art certainly did not reign supreme back then. The Miami Art Basel fair didn’t exist yet. There were much fewer museums. Failing to find any interest in my immediate surroundings I tuned to the great European masters. I would have much preferred to spend a day at the Louvre than at MoMA. I didn’t feel any particular affinity with pop art or the minimalism that have such prominent status in the States. I was always more interested by the idea of telling stories. You could say that abstract expressionism tells stories too… but personally they never struck me as very obvious (laughs).
The stories that you tell aren’t always fairy tales. Where does this darkness that emanates from your paintings come from?
Ultimately I’m a bit of a Goth (laughs). Even when I did paintings inspired by transcendentalism and the beauty of the world, I always staged a nature that’s inhabited by ghosts or strange and scary stories. Maybe I’m just inspired by what I listen to in my studio. I spent my days with the TV on in the background. And I have to admit it’s often the TV show Law & Order. Passing the day listening to stories of rape and murder might have something to do with it (laughs).
Hernan Bas, "Fruits and Flowers", Galerie Perrotin, 76, rue de Turenne, Paris III. On until December 19th www.perrotin.com
By Thibaut Wychowanok