Hernan Bas’s show at Lehmann Maupin, up through July 10, is many things; the first adjectives that come to mind are worth-seeing, interesting and ambitious. These scenes of verdant landscape enclosing small figures create a sense of narrative, cataclysmic and lonely, and are visually mesmerizing as your eye tries to take in all the detail of these large canvases.
Bas breaks up the landscape with angular planes and covers them in expressive brushwork. There’s a chaotic element to the landscape, which looks like tectonic plates smashing into each other to create contours, and its warring colors.
While the angular planes of the landscape are lushly and loosely painted, this contrasts with his treatment of human figures. They are small in relation to the landscape and tightly delineated. His figures are the more telling than his deceptively loose, chaotic landscapes. You can see it in the hard edges he creates, seemingly by painting in layers over strips of paper that he then pulls off, how precisely controlled the enviorns are.
Bas’s images work from far away, when the wild colors seem more balanced and you get an evocative sense of a landscape in ruin, and up close, where his painting becomes mesmerizingly complex. There are some instances of really beautiful color, like below. Yet I also felt that the angular planes of the landscape, instead of creating depth, pushed everything in the picture to the forefront. Without depth, the complexity becomes dizzying, at times to the composition’s detriment.
As Bas says in an interview with BlackBook, “The whole show is based on a newfound interest that I had in Futurism and 1920s Absurdist performance,” and there’s no lack of references to it within the show (e.g. The title of the show, The Dance of the Machine Gun & Other Forms of Unpopular Expression). This conscious use of art history can seem heavy handed, and I think the New York Times might have put it best when, in an article on the artist’s show at BMA that just closed, “The cumulative effect of the exhibition is of a young man still finding himself as an artist.”
‘Finding himself’ seems to be a rewarding process for the viewer as well as the artist based on this show. It bodes well that the artist is willing to try new things, as here he to incorporate new elements into his visual language and risk different subject matter (previously homoerotic scenes of young boys, like the show at BMA). Bas is an artist to watch.