Hernan Bas's sixth solo exhibition at Perrotin in Paris

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Hernan Bas's sixth solo exhibition at Perrotin in Paris
View of Hernan Bas’s exhibition ‘The First and The Last’ at Perrotin Paris, 2024. Photo: Tanguy Beurdeley. Courtesy of the artist and Perrotin.

PARIS.- Perrotin is presenting The First and the Last, Hernan Bas’s sixth solo exhibition at the gallery. Featuring paintings and works on paper, the exhibition explores the blurred boundaries between reality and fiction, drawing viewers into a world where the extraordinary and the mundane collide. Bas’s work encourages us to reflect on the fragility of life and the nuances of human relationships. Taking inspiration from various sources, such as the recent case of a tourist caught carving his name on the Colosseum in Rome, the artist captivatingly explores the absurdities of existence as well as their poignant beauty.

“While this act was far from admirable, it reminded me of the sorts of marks and places people feel the need to attach their name to (sometimes literally). It is an act of attempted immortality on a minor scale.” --- Hernan Bas

Text by Anaël Pigeat

The first and the last? But what is this absurd competition? What is this divine realm where these roles are reversed? The darkly humorous subject of Hernan Bas’s exhibition The First and the Last was inspired by the Olympic Games that will take place in Paris this summer. Following his exhibition The Conceptualists at the Bass Museum in Miami, Bas wanted to take a more light-hearted approach and pay tribute to the magnificent losers he is so fond of.

Bas begins his paintings or drawings by making lists of titles, which he then converts into images using photographic montages. These images are then projected onto the canvas, to which he applies acrylic paint. In his new exhibition, he presents his drawings as stand-alone artworks for the first time. He has adopted Paul Gauguin’s transfer technique, a delicate practice that consists of coating sheets of paper with ink, turning them over, and drawing on the back to leave the imprint of the strokes on the substrate – a single, too-forceful gesture can instantly ruin the whole thing. He adds up to ten layers of grey using silkscreens. Although he generally employs acrylic in his paintings, he has also experimented with oil highlights on silver strips or fragments of uniforms.

Bass’s latest series is populated by a whole host of eclectic characters. Imagine the winner of one of those weekly dance contests during the Great Depression, the contestants pushing themselves to the brink of exhaustion. One character dons a T-shirt that reads, “They shoot horses, don’t they?” In an old-fashioned café, a drinker takes a melancholic sip of absinthe. And could this goldfish really be the first animal on Mars? A
young man pruning branches in a bucolic forest seems busy with esoteric projects in an atmosphere reminiscent of the Blair Witch Project. Hernan Bas has been working to complete several pieces, such as his work on paper Finding the First Flock of Flamingos to Return to Florida in a Century, inspired by the recent return of pink flamingos to Florida, where Hernan Bas resides. These birds were hunted to extinction before being reintroduced from Cuba, where Bas’s family is originally from.

Hernan Bas combines the idea of vain competition with the desire – perhaps no less vain – of making a mark in history. He shows us ghostly traces on the ceiling of The Eagle pub in Cambridge, created by airmen during the Second World War using wax candles, lighters, and lipstick. In another drawing, a pupil seated at a school desk engraves words into wood in front of mathematical equations on a blackboard, like so many poetic riddles: “The end doesn’t even matter,” “his own name,” “I want pizza.” And in yet another drawing, a figure has carved letters into the leaves of a succulent plant, curiously entitled the tourist tree.

Hernan Bas’s exhibition carries a profound sense of the end of the world, often intertwined with elements of humor. In The Last Day that Tower Was Standing, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is seemingly saved from collapse by a tourist’s hand, akin to a holiday snapshot. A man indulges in a final, extravagant meal before an asteroid’s imminent arrival. Ailing in a hospital bed, a man prepares to utter his last words or perhaps to receive them in the form of a postcard... The presence of Picasso’s Guernica in the background of the large painting The Last Museum Guard at the Last Museum on Earth is too somber to elicit a smile. Hernan Bas doesn’t depict the accident; he hints at the impending catastrophe through ambiguous interludes.

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