Lehmann Maupin presents Hernan Bas’ Bright Young Things, the artist’s fourth solo exhibition with the gallery, featuring new paintings on canvas and paper. Bas draws from a pool of references found in art, poetry, religion, mythology, film, and literature. In this recent series, he turns his attention specifically to 1920s London, and a group of young, bohemian aristocrats that emerged post-World War I. The artist will be present for an opening reception at the gallery on Thursday, March 10 from 6-8 PM.
Dubbed “bright young people” or “bright young things” by the media that sensationalized their antics and lavish lifestyle, and later in books such as Bright Young People: The Lost Generation of London’s Jazz Age by D.J. Taylor, the high society group was extensively documented by photographer Cecil Beaton, whose images were a primary influence of Bas’ works. For the artist, who has long examined queer male themes found throughout modern history in his work, the characters and settings exemplify the recent past when queerness became a bourgeois privilege—accepted as charming affect rather than criminal act—for a class of young men coming of age following the loss of an older, more “masculine” generation in the war.
Ranging in scale from small, intimate works on paper to large canvases in muted colors with pops of pastel hues, this body of work focuses on general scenes of leisure: the day-to-day of society life, debauched nights, and intimate exchanges between imagined players. Formally, Bas distorts the conventional pictorial field by compressing the foreground and background, and by altering the perceived depth of the spaces in which his figures exist. The paintings are a blend of figuration and abstraction that incorporate classical genres including landscape and portraiture, and, for the first time, nod to early 20th century American still lifes and Art Deco motifs. Bas is equally prodigious in his experimentation with various techniques and materials—such as airbrush, wood block, acrylic, gold leaf, and house paint—as he is with his reference points.
Although well-read on these subjects, Bas prefers to focus on enduring myths as well as his own internalized interpretations, rather than the factual components. The resulting works in Bright Young Things depict a decade-long span where eccentricities were not repressed but rather celebrated, however superficially, for their entertainment value.