Sweet Abandon

I met Hernan Bas for the first time less than two months ago. It was a casual talk organised by my college, where the artist was being hosted at that time. As already mentioned in some of my other posts, Cambridge often offers great changes to meet new people: established artists, politicians, think-tanks. The university naturally becomes an exchange platform for ideas and people. You are given the chance to question what actually matters in your case and what you are looking for, even when something is not valuable to you. However, I met the artist in the Webb Library with a restricted group of students and fellows, where he gave a brief presentation of his oeuvre, followed by a q&a session. Here I have written down some personal considerations and conclusions about it.


Apollo with Daphne as a Boy

His paintings are often populated by young boys, set in unsettling scenarios. Often, elements of exoticism are included, for instance through the vegetation. In fact, the viewer is led to a further dimension beyond the representation. As Bas himself pointed out, he is deeply interested in the supernatural, reflected in his paintings by a powerful aura of sensual mystery. Decadentism is echoed throughout his works, lurking in the tension between the materiality of his beautiful characters and the perception of exhausted abandon. I believe this is particularly evident in Apollo with Daphne as a Boy. The reference to Ovid’s myth is clear. However, something is unclear, if not disturbing. The boy on the right, clearly representing Daphne, is not turning into a tree as his mythical counterpart. He is only grabbing a plant, creating an atmosphere of ambiguity: are we just witnessing a game or something more? The title leads us to the second assumption, but nothing in the painting confirms it. Moreover, the unhealthy complexion of the characters stands out and their elongated, stretched bodies seem to mimic the surrounding vegetation. The result is puzzling and uncomfortable.


The Champagne Corks Bobbed in the Pool

The sense of expectation is a constant element, as the viewer does not face directly the event. Something is going on, something indeed is going to happen or has just happened, but we are not fully aware of it. This is evident in The Champagne Corks, where two young boys passively observe the remaining of a party. They look exhausted and their eyes betray an anxious feeling of alienation. They are still, as their bodies refuse to move. The one on the left, crouching, expresses a feeling of awkwardness and visually covers his body against the spectator. The boy on the right partially covers his face as well, while the left hand loosely touches the pool’s surface. The bunch of exotic plants on the background contrasts with the bottles, scattered throughout the water.


The Sunday Snail Race


On the one hand, Bas’s works are distressing and powerfully tense. However, they present a mellifluous and unexpected visual allure. The prosperous and spurting vegetation, the deep greens and curved lines of leaf embrace the delicate, yet seemingly sick human characters. Indeed, the attractiveness of his works stem from the immediacy of the aesthetic pleasure and the unclear borders of their meaning. We see his characters and we vaguely identify the setting, yet we are unable to connect them into a narrative reading. In this regard, the figures’ abandon and loose poses invite us to linger on them, gaining pleasure from the mere sight. Eventually, the viewer forgets the mentioned contradictions in the act of enjoyment, which becomes the only dimension of his gaze.



Apollo with Daphne as a Boy

Champagne Corks

The Sunday Snail Race

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Alessandro M. Rubin Written by:

Cambridge History of Art alumnus. Passionate early-modernist, curious about contemporary art and aesthetic theory.

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