Hernan Bas - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Friday, October 6, 2023 | Phillips
  • The enigmatic paintings of Hernan Bas offer a contemporary take on traditional portraiture, imbuing his adolescent subjects with a palpable psychological tension. Working in mixed media, Bas renders the faces and bodies of androgynous youths in minute detail, yet places them against flat, undefined backgrounds that create an intriguing sense of dislocation. Infused with ambiguous symbols and references, his works draw out timeless existential themes of youthful experience. 


    The present lot, The dead line was exhibited at the artist’s landmark exhibitions, including Hernan Bas: The Perennial affairs at Galerie Peter Kilchmann in 2011 and his major 2012 retrospective, Hernan Bas: The Other Side, at the Kunstverein Hannover. Bas’ dreamlike composition draws viewers into a contemplation of their own inner psychological landscapes. He uses both natural and imagined landscapes to surround subjects with evocative environments that align with or counterpoint their inner states of mind and being. The settings become an important part of the overall narrative and symbolic meaning of his paintings. As exemplified in The dead line, the solitary figure walks precariously along a thin line, holding onto a bamboo stick as his point of balance. The figure appears languid and moody, yet the symbolic use of bamboo in this painting reflects the underlying metaphor of resilience and personal growth that emerges from the vulnerability of life and the inevitability of death.



    Bamboo: A Symbol of Strength and Resilience


    Zheng Xie, Misty Bamboo on a Distant Mountain, Qing dynasty (1644–1911)


    In traditional Chinese art, four esteemed plants are known as the 'Four Gentlemen,' each representing virtues idealised in Confucian thought. But of these botanical metaphors, it is the bamboo that is most revered. With stalks remaining erect and verdant through winter's barrenness, the bamboo exemplifies strength and tenacity. Yet its hollow stems symbolise modesty and honesty, an uprightness aligned with Confucian ideals. While the plum, orchid, and chrysanthemum each convey singular nobility, the bamboo synthesizes multiplicity – at once firm yet flexible, constant yet hollow, thriving in adversity yet humble in manner – the bamboo elegantly balances contradiction, proving integrity can partner flexibility, resilience can flourish through restraint. i


    In the same way that Chinese paintings of plants are seen as reflections of human characters, the isolated, lonely figures in Bas's paintings reflect the solitary nature of death. They are often positioned in contemplation or preparation for the transition. In The dead line, death is treated as a passage or transition, not an end. The line symbolising the fragility of life, a state of uncertainty that we all face growing up. By bridging a line between the haunting architecture in the background and descending towards the bamboo field in the foreground while the figure is positioned in between, Bas creates a liminal quality, a space in-between that evokes a sense of the threshold.



    The Southern Gothic


    Drawing inspiration from 18th and 19th century Gothic literature, art, architecture, and aesthetics, Bas deftly adapts its key motifs to capture the emotions and passions of contemporary youth culture. Often set against shadowy voids or architectural ruins, Bas’s subjects exhibit a melancholy so characteristic of the Gothic sensibility.


    In the backwaters of Florida, where paranormal sightings haunted his childhood like episodes of the X-Files, Bas cultivated his penchant for the macabre. The writings of Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, and Oscar Wilde—nefarious yet decadent—fomented his fascination with morbidity, isolation, and eccentric humour. The predominance of subdued greys, taupes, browns, and faded hues in the present painting evokes a sense of nostalgia and the ephemeral, fleeting nature of youth. The colours seem gently weathered or aged, reflecting on adolescent years as a transient moment. Bas’ witty use of pun for the title of the painting, The dead line further alludes to the ephemeral nature of life itself.


    “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.” 
    — Hernan Bas


    Together these visual cues create an atmosphere of disquiet, melancholy, and mystique that draws viewers into the intimate, introspective world of Bas's adolescent subjects. Since winning early acclaim, Bas has distilled the fleeting effervescence of youth into an aesthetic at once nostalgic and timeless. By immersing brooding youths in surreal landscapes of the mind and creating psychological depth through symbolism, he transforms adolescent curiosity and precariousness into a universal metaphor for the human condition.



    Collector's Digest


    • Bas has held numerous successful solo exhibitions in recent years. This includes at the Rubell Museum in Miami; 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).

    • 2021 marked Bas’ debut in China when his retrospective, Choose Your Adventure, was held at the Yuz Museum in Shanghai.

    • 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.



    i “Bamboo Painting.” China Online Museum, online

    • Provenance

      Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zurich
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2011

    • Exhibited

      Zurich, Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Hernan Bas, Perennial Affairs, 11 June - 30 July 2011
      Kunstverein Hannover, Hernan Bas: The Other Side, 18 February - 29 April 2012, p. 66-67 (illustrated)

    • 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


The dead line

signed with the artist's initials and dated 'HB 11' lower right; further signed with the artist's initials, titled and dated ‘“The dead line" HB 2011' on the reverse
acrylic, airbrush, block print and screen print on linen
244 x 275 cm. (96 1/8 x 108 1/4 in.)
Executed in 2011.

Full Cataloguing

HK$5,000,000 - 7,000,000 

Sold for HK$6,350,000

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 6 October 2023