Hernan Bas Brings His “Erotic Nostalgia” to a Special Series of Etchings

When opportunity comes knocking, whether figuratively or literally—as in, at your actual door—you have to be prepared to seize it. Case in point: Rhea Fontaine of Paulson Bott Press on the day the boundary-pushing Miami-born, Detroit-based painter Hernan Bas contacted her about purchasing a print.

“For many years,” Fontaine later wrote, “I had been enthralled by Hernan’s paintings and extremely curious about the man responsible for many of the ‘Renaissance in Detroit’ stories I had read.” Instead of simply complimenting the artist and selling him the piece he was after, Fontaine invited Bas to collaborate with Paulson Bott Press, a publisher of fine art prints, to make a special series of etchings. The artist agreed. Take a look at the resulting works and it’s clear that Fontaine’s boldness paid off.

The etchings are largely characteristic of Bas’s oeuvre. The artist, the subject of a major retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum in 2009, is known for painting boys and androgynous figures on the cusp of sexual awakening, usually in “homoerotically charged situations” and dreamily dark landscapes. Bas has stated that he takes inspiration from literary greats including Oscar Wilde and Arthur Rimbaud, and critics have drawn comparisons between his work and that of David Hockney or Elizabeth Peyton.

The Paulson Bott Press series offers more of Bas’s  “erotic nostalgia.” The subjects of several works—like The Rosy Tenant, The Previous Tenant, and The Renaissance Man (all 2013)—appear to depict the same young man, indicating a particular fascination on the artist’s part. The subject gazes intently back at the viewer, his face fixed in a stern but somehow challenging expression, as if he’s forcing the artist, and by extension, the viewer, to acknowledge him. As Fontaine notes, Bas’s “embrace of sexuality and a queer perspective is bold and unapologetic,” and yet his work is infused with a deep sense of loneliness.

That dichotomy is reflected in the artist’s solitary process. “After long hours in our studio,” Fontaine writes, “Hernan returned to his hotel and continued to work. He’d arrive back the next morning with a fresh group of drawings to inspire his prints, playfully experimenting with every technique intaglio has to offer. The resulting body of work reflects an ongoing transformation between nocturnal longings and the glories of a new day.”

—Bridget Gleeson

Follow Paulson Bott Press on Artsy.