There is a subtle inculcation from an early age that a penchant for the weird does not predispose a successful career. Even though the creatives who sport a quirky odd streak are warily admired, no one asks the school guidance counselor about how a love for The X-Files might result in a scholarship in paranormal studies. I’ve read countless interviews with the Miami-born Hernan Bas, many citing the inspiration behind his work, where there seems to be an alignment with the alluringly decadent and mysterious works of literature by great Gothic writers of the past like Mary Shelley, Poe, or Wilde. That, coupled with his move to north-central Florida at a young age, results in a steeping in Southern Gothic tradition that oozes from each painting. His characters have grown up over the two decades Bas has been in the limelight, with hostile humor, sadness, growth, and isolation riddling each painting. Either Bas is the enigma or his signature moments are, and that he has dedicated his craft to often misunderstood or underappreciated moments of history makes him a unique and influential voice in contemporary figurative painting.
I’ve always wanted to speak to Hernan Bas because I hoped to excavate the humor in his work, which provides plenty to unpack. But there is tragedy, too. After losing his mother earlier in 2020 to Covid, he made a remarkable body of work, Creature Comforts, that was on display at Perrotin in Paris through early 2021. We talked about the genesis of that series, how nature was reflected in the paintings, and how a sustained desire to uncover the mysteries of the world is one of life’s truly important journeys.
Evan Pricco: You are based both in Detroit and Miami, but as we speak, you’re in Florida now?
Hernan Bas: I’m in Miami now. I spend more time in Miami, these days, and I’ve been back here since March 2020 and I haven’t been back to Detroit or anywhere.
Was it just a coincidence, or did you think, “If there’s going to be something that’s going to happen to all of us, Miami’s a better place for me to be.” You have a lot of shows, so I assume spending time in the studio is mostly what you do anyway?
I think it’s the latter for me. Social distancing is not a stretch for me. That’s my day-to-day life, regardless, to some extent. I basically go from home to the studio every single day, pretty much. And I don’t have any studio assistants, so that was never an issue either. I was in Italy right as the whole world was shifting, so when I got back to Miami and saw what happened to Venice and Milan, I’m not doing anything. I’m not going anywhere.
I did lose my mom to Covid, which was terrible. I mean, during the lockdown, Miami has not really been super responsible, let’s put it that way. To this day, it’s mind-numbing how people just don’t understand what social distancing means. And that was, I don’t know, it sucked, but besides that, it’s been relatively peaceful.
Oh my god, I’m sorry to hear that. We’ve heard so much about death over the last 12 months as such an abstract statistic, but when it’s close and real emotions are involved, that’s incomprehensible. I was going to ask you how Miami was in the absence of the fairs, but also growing up there. Had Miami been more of an art capital 25 years ago, would it have changed you or your approach?
I probably would have run to New York faster. No matter what, there is still that Miami flavor that everything’s a spectacle, you know? When I was younger, the only art you could see was what is now called the Perez Museum, which was four blocks from my high school. My only understanding of art was going to the public library by myself, or with my friends, and just poring over all the books they have.
There was no gallery district. Technically, the gallery that I worked with in Miami all these years was way down south, where nobody goes now. You wouldn’t find anyone coming for Basel. The whole creation of Wynwood and the art district was also somewhat of a ploy for real estate as far as I was concerned. Early on, these developers would give you the free space for studios, and then, coincidentally, a few years later, the neighborhood’s up and coming. It’s a classic case of gentrification. So, I tried to get away from that as quickly as possible. I want to do my own thing. I don’t want to be beholden to whatever this is. I’m kind of ambivalent about the whole Miami scene. One of the reasons I went to Detroit was because I wanted to jump out of this.
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