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Jazz Age Queerness Comes to Life In Lush Paintings

Hernan Bas’s new exhibit tackles barely-closeted early 20th century queerness.

by Gabrielle Bruney
Mar 13 2016, 7:14pm

Toutes les images sont publiées avec l'aimable autorisation de Hernan Bas et de Lehmann Maupi.

Open artistic sexuality has broadened the possibilities for eroticism in art, but like your Grandpa says, there’s magic in leaving something to the imagination. Hernan Bas, known for his paintings of listless young men that fairly crackle with sexual tension, does just that. The erotic is ever-present in his works—even dystopian landscapes seem ripe and lush, inspiring that familiar mixture of fear and excitement that so often is a prelude a romantic encounter. His works have been associated strongly with 19th century Romanticism as they recall the writing of J.K. Huysmans and Oscar Wilde in their barely-concealed queerness, abounding with beautiful boys sipping wine in verdant nature scenes.

In his new show, however, Bas jumps forward in time—just a bit. Bright Young Things, at Chelsea’s Lehmann Maupin Gallery, finds Bas painting the louche, well-off youth of interwar Britain. These jazz-age aristocrats were designated “bright young things” by the media, and the fact that they transgressed the strict bounds of heterosexuality was, due to their wealth and connections, considered if not entirely permissible, a charming function of youth. Queerness "was acceptable in the '20s if you were an eccentric,” Bas tells The Creators Project, "which is what this show is kind of about."

Compared to his previous paintings, this series employs a bright color palette, and its nature scenes take place in blooming gardens rather than the wild forests of his earlier works. "The comment I’ve heard the most—which is kind of surprising, but also a good thing—is that the characters look happier,”  Bas says. "There still is some melancholy in there because, I mean, it’s me. But in a way it’s like me growing up, as well as these characters."

Hernan Bas, Champagne Corks Bobbed in the Pool That Morning, 2016. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong. Photo: Daniel Portnoy

Hernan Bas, The accidental chess game, 2015. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong. Photo: Max Yawney

Hernan Bas, Hunting in Winchelsea (summer breaks from Cambridge), 2016 acrylic on linen 50 x 40 x 1.375 inches 127 x 101.6 x 3.5 cm Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong. Photo: Daniel Portnoy

Hernan Bas, The Fourth of June (Eton), 2016. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong. Photo: Max Yawney

Hernan Bas, End of term (Eton), 2016 acrylic. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong. Photo: Max Yawney

Hernan Bas, Bright Young Things Installation view, Lehmann Maupin, 536 22nd Street, New York March 10—April 23, 2016. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong. Photo: Elisabeth Bernstein

Hernan Bas,  Period jetsam, 2016. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong. Photo: Max Yawney

Hernan Bas, False prayer (Bright young things), 2016.  Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong. Photo: Daniel Portnoy

Bright Young Things will be exhibited at Lehmann Maupin Gallery until April 23rd. For more information, click here.

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Creators
exhibit
queer art
Bright Young Things
Hernan Bas