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  • Overview

      'I love the written word but I am at a constant battle trying to make images that can stand alone and compete or, better, surpass the written word.' —Hernan Bas

    Celebrated for his delicate, passionate depictions of adolescent boys on the threshold of sexual self-discovery, Hernan Bas has, since the turn of the 2000s, developed an iconographic language that merges visual and literary sources spanning classical poetry, religious stories, mythology, and the paranormal. Two Fruits, painted in 2015, portrays a young man sat near a wooden table, leaning back with his head sensually tilting to the side. Behind him, an androgynous boy of the same age echoes his discreetly suggestive position, surrounded by a lush, gothic landscape that eludes spatio-temporal specificity. Composed of hazy brushstrokes and synthetic colours, Two Fruits suggests a fictitious place where literary traits and imaginative possibilities collide, reminiscent of Charles Baudelaire’s written accounts of atmospheric environments, drenched in colours, smells, sounds and invitations to touch. Replete with poetic associations, Two Fruits forms part of a collection of paintings that was presented as a ‘fruity and flowery ensemble’ on the occasion of the artist’s third solo show at Galerie Perrotin, Paris, in 2015, and that found inspiration in Joris-Karl Huysmans’ 1884 symbolist masterwork À rebours (Against Nature), in which the antihero Jean des Esseintes, a reclusive esthete, shivers in awe while listening to Gustave Flaubert’s prose: ‘I seek new perfumes, larger blossoms, pleasures untasted’.i Used as the main image for the show’s Vernissage invitation card, Two Fruits epitomised Bas’ artistic intention for Fruits and Flowers, and presaged the direction towards which his subsequent paintings would motion.

     

    Weaving References

     

    An eager consumer of literary and artistic references, Bas ceaselessly incorporates visual codes that take after artists he admires within his own compositions. Claiming that some of his friends’ musical remixes sometimes surpass the original songs, the painter has devised a similar goal of ‘sampling’ artists who inspire him, before blending and twisting accrued visual material into a language entirely his own. Two Fruits, set in what appears to be a paradisiac blend of Romantic, Gothic, and exotic landscapes, is, in its ambivalent environment, redolent of Peter Doig’s leafy or snowy cabin scenes, which merge his impressions of Canada and Trinidad. In the present work, the two houses crowning the backdrop of the composition similarly glow under lush foliage, as if they found themselves in a unique microclimate combining British greenery and a distant, jungly land.

      

    Peter Doig, Pink Snow, 1991, oil on canvas, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © Peter Doig. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2020. Image: The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala Images, Florence.
    Peter Doig, Pink Snow, 1991, oil on canvas, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © Peter Doig. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2020. Image: The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala Images, Florence.

    To the bottom of the composition, Bas has laid out a nature morte that seems to function entirely independently from the rest of the scene. The various bright fruit and bowls, serendipitously arranged across the round, wooden table, are reminiscent of Paul Cézanne’s seminal still life paintings, which, in their technical prowess and impressionist flair, went on to inform the entire genre, as well as an entire generation of painters. Specifically, the angles with which the mangoes, oranges and apricots are presented in Two Fruits suggest a specifically curated intervention, in the same way masters of still life would arrange their nature mortes as one would stage a scene.

     

    Paul Cézanne, Still life with Apples, ca. 1890, oil on canvas, State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. Image: Bridgeman Images.
    Paul Cézanne, Still life with Apples, ca. 1890, oil on canvas, State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. Image: Bridgeman Images.

    The third and most visually compelling layer of the composition, dominating its wide central orbit, shows the two boys playfully designated as the ‘two fruits’ of the painting’s title, looking intently at a point that is unreachable to the viewer, in a lounging, relaxed pose. These two characters, portrayed as young, delicate, and androgynous, convey a similar sentiment to Elizabeth Peyton’s repertoire of vulnerable-looking superstars. Specifically, the striped shirts both boys are wearing evoke Peyton’s melancholic watercolour Lunch (Nick), residing in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in which a languorous Nick delicately brushes his cheek whilst looking down at the table beneath him. In Bas’ language, the two protagonists of the present image insinuate neo-romantic, sexually fluid figures that presage the queer, aristocratic young men he painted a year later in his Bright Young Things series.

     

    Elizabeth Peyton, Lunch (Nick), 2003, watercolour on paper, Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Judith Rothschild Foundation Contemporary Drawings Collection Gift. © Elizabeth Peyton. Image: 2020, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence.
    Elizabeth Peyton, Lunch (Nick), 2003, watercolour on paper, Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Judith Rothschild Foundation Contemporary Drawings Collection Gift. © Elizabeth Peyton. Image: 2020, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence.

    Hernan Bas in Conversation

     

    Hernan Bas discusses the queerness and melancholy one might find in his figurative work.

     

    Kenta Murakami: There is a certain disaffected or melancholic pathos that surfaces in a lot of your work. Do you feel like that comes from somewhere autobiographical or do you think it’s more an interest in cliché representations of queerness?    


    Hernan Bas: It’s a weird thing. I always get that response from the work, and it’s something I’m completely unaware of when I’m doing it — in terms of the sighing, and the hands, and flippant attitude. I think a lot of it stems from my early, early work where I was referencing a lot of fashion. When you look at men’s fashion magazines the boys always have that “I cannot be bothered” posture. And it’s weird to me that that has a gay implication.


    KM: Perhaps that ambivalence can be our version of an outer shell?

     

    HB: Maybe that’s part of it … It’s not the easiest thing growing up gay, so I think there is that pathos for sure. But I think someone mentioned earlier that these characters in the show seem a lot happier. So I’m kind of in a mood to paint less depressed characters. I mean, I guess there are still moments where they’re sort of … tired. I don’t know, maybe it’s my schtick.

     

    Read the rest of the interview here.

     

    On Painting the Otherworldly

     

    In a talk conducted at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, Hernan Bas speaks of homosexuality and the ‘otherworldly’ in his work, illustrating his artistic intention with a number of his paintings, including Two Fruits.

     

     

    i Gustave Flaubert, 1874, quoted in Violaine Boutet de Monvel, ‘Hernan Bas: Fruits and Flowers’, Galerie Perrotin, 2015, reproduced online.

    • Provenance

      Perrotin, Paris
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2015

    • Exhibited

      Paris, Perrotin, Hernan Bas: Fruits and Flowers, 22 October - 19 December 2015

Property from a Private Scandinavian Collection

5

Two Fruits

signed with the artist's initials and dated 'HB 15' lower left; further signed with the artist's initials, titled and dated 'TWO FRUITS HB 2015' on the reverse
acrylic on linen
152.7 x 122.5 cm (60 1/8 x 48 1/4 in.)
Painted in 2015.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
£60,000 - 80,000 

Sold for £163,800

Contact Specialist

Kate Bryan
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4026
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 20 October 2020