Hernan Bas - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Wednesday, June 22, 2022 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • I've always sort of thought of [my works] as being... at the end of the day, when I'm off the planet, it will be like an encyclopedia of the strange course of my life.
    Hernan Bas

    The Southern Gothic


    Growing up in a small backwater town in upstate Florida, a place that American artist Hernan Bas described as living in an episode of the X-Files, the artist enjoyed a unique childhood that was littered with paranormal sightings and other bizarre encounters with the unearthly. These formative years, coupled with an affinity for the nefarious yet decadent writings of Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe and Oscar Wilde, fomented a practice that displays a penchant for morbidity, isolation and off-kilter humour that are made manifest in compositions weave together stories of adolescent adventures and the paranormal with classical poetry, religious stories, mythology and literature.


    Despite being in the contemporary spotlight for years now, Bas has always sought to dodge the bright lights of Miami’s burgeoning art scene, away from its Wynwood art district and the annual hordes of Basel. He treats the city’s ascendance in the art world constellation with ambivalence, and moved to Detroit in 2010 where he owns a studio, before returning to Florida at the beginning of the pandemic. Bas’ oeuvre could be defined by his androgynous dandy aesthetic, where men and boys of various ages engage in acts and rituals of courtship, love and death, the mannered ballads of heightened emotion. These visions are both alluring and ominous, in which his figures occupy the liminal boundaries of a man’s progression through life, what Bas calls the ‘fag limbo’ — projecting the 21st century’s answer to Ganymede and Tadzioi.


    Installation shot of the present lot (right) at Frederic Snitzer Gallery, Miami, Boys in Peril?, 2013

    However, the artist finds conflict in the traditional labelling of his oneiric compositions, explaining as such: ‘I don't like to think of it as portraiture at all. I've been quoted as describing it as the state of where you don't really know what or who you are. Or back to literature, a Catcher in the Rye type of thing. It's all there. And I've always been drawn to that sort of in-between. I mean, no one wants to read a book where the character is so easily understood and defined.’ ii. Though here in the present lot, Bas takes a decidedly more macabre tone, one that delves further into the psychotropic.


    A Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy


    “My work has nothing to do with urban decay. What I was intrigued by was the fact was there were all these ‘haunted’ houses.”
    Hernan Bas


    Who Told Them We Were Coming? initially strikes you as a commentary on urban decay, with the angular row of houses that crown the composition appearing more like the razor-sharp mandible of the Cthulhu. Yet the artist’s fascination lay more in the product rather than the process of the deindustrialisation he witnessed in Detroit, drawn to the abandoned, ‘haunted’ houses that lined the former capital of the automotive industry.



    Charles Ephraim Burchfield, Gateway to September, 1946-1956


    Swinging the double-edged sword that is his practice, elegance and desolation are balanced in Bas’ sumptuous rendering of colour and form; a balance that recalls the peculiar forms of the American modernist, Charles Burchfield. The figure to the right of the composition is found isolated and enveloped by the cacophony of bleeding tones, ethereal beings, and an ever-encroaching phalanx of creaking mansions. In this work Bas projects, a sinister vision of an existential danger, the cause, effect and outcome left ambiguous. Bas alludes to a clairvoyant dimension within his painting, a supernatural presence that he denotes as such: ‘Duchamp put it that painting is a form of automatic writing. You're not super conscious of what you're doing. There's an element of magic to painting’iii.



    Within this composition, the artist triggers feelings of nostalgia for shared childhood fantasies and coming of age adventures. As such, it is a stage of life shrouded in uncertainty and malaise, a mood reinforced through Bas’ choice of colour palette. The tones remain noticeably desaturated and overcast with grey hues, comparable to a pervasive veil of angst that looms over our very being, both internally and externally, which is in turn signified by the house and exterior surroundings. Dark crooked houses in the background juxtaposes the warm reds and greenery in the foreground, further adding to a sense of cognitive dissonance. A prism of coded desire and self-discovery, the current work is representative of Bas’ much explored theme of introspective reveries.


    The lone figure in the foreground is not given particular motion or expression, positioning himself as a substitute for the viewer, allowing the whole piece to become a contemplative and engaging viewing experience; there is no explicit indication as to what the scene is seeking to convey. As Bas describes:


    I've always pictured my figures as being in a choose-your-own-adventure book, and the person looking at the painting can choose where the story is going.
    Hernan Bas

    Collector’s Digest


    Hernan Bas is a key figure within the world of contemporary art, and has held numerous successful solo exhibitions in recent years. This includes at the Rubell Museum in Miami, which opened on 18 November 2020 and closes soon on 12 December 2021; Creature Comforts at Perrotin in Paris (17 October 2020 – 30 January 2021); Venetian Blind at Victoria Miro in Venice (8 February – 14 March 2020); and TIME LIFE at Lehmann Maupin in New York (7 November 2019 – 4 January 2020).


    Bas was honoured with a retrospective last year, Choose Your Adventure at the Yuz Museum in Shanghai, marking Bas’ debut in China.


    His works are held in numerous prestigious public collections around the world, including: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Saatchi Collection, London; Samuso: Space for Contemporary Art, Seoul; Rubell Family Collection, Miami; and the Brooklyn Museum, Museum of Modern Art, and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.



    Hernan Bas, quoted in artist biography on the Galerie Perrotin website, online

    ii    Hernan Bas, quoted in Evan Pricco, ‘Hernan Bas: A Certain Southern Gothic’, Juxtapoz, online  

    iii  Hernan Bas, quoted in Kate Abbey-Lambertz, ‘Hernan Bas, Painter, Talks Growing Up In Haunted Florida, Working In Detroit’, Huffington Post, 11 April 2012, online  

    • Provenance

      Frederic Snitzer, Miami
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Miami, Fredric Snitzer, Hernan Bas: Boys in Peril?, 12 April - 27 May 2013

    • Literature

      Matt Price, Martyn Richard Coppell and Dung Ngo, eds., Hernan Bas, New York, 2014, pp. 260, 273 (illustrated, p. 261)

    • Artist Biography

      Hernan Bas

      Hernan Bas (b.1978) is a contemporary American painter who lives and works in Miami. His paintings are influenced by the romantic and decadent legacies of 18th and 19th century art, literature, poetry, and religion. These influences result in canvases that are complex and highly detailed and often portray characters, typically young male figures, nestled among flora and fauna.  

      Hernan Bas received a degree from the New World School of the Arts in Miami, Florida in 1996. Solo exhibitions of Bas’ work have been curated by the Rubell Museum, Miami, Yuz Museum, Shanghai, and Space, K, Seoul.  Bas’ artwork is found in permanent collections worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada, and Carré d'Art - Musée d'Art Contemporain, Nîmes, France.

      View More Works


Who Told Them We Were Coming?

signed with the artist's initials, titled and dated 'HB 2013 "who told them we were coming?"' on the reverse
oil on canvas
183 x 152 cm. (72 x 59 7/8 in.)
Painted in 2013.

Full Cataloguing

HK$4,000,000 - 6,000,000 

Sold for HK$3,528,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 22 June 2022