Imagine I’m a disembodied voice telling you to get out of your chair. It’s a coincidence that I’m sending you there twice in a row, but I want you to go back to Peter Kilchmann. This time, to see a painting by Hernan Bas called The curious case of Matthew Manning poltergeist. The painting is big, 6 foot by 5 foot. It has two almost life-size teenage boys on it, staring moodily into the middle distance. The scene might or might not be set in the early 1970s. There is a small portable record player in the foreground, and the boy in the foreground is wearing converse sneakers. The bulk of the canvas is concerned with the wooden panels in the room, that are entirely covered in some five hundred or so graffiti – signatures, for the most part, that the British schoolboy Matthew Manning felt compelled to scrawl all over the walls of his bedroom. At the time, he claimed that they were made by a poltergeist, a discarnate entity, or rather, lots of discarnate entities – the signatures spanned over 600 years, and included lots of dead from the village in which Manning grew up. The signatures were photographed by a local paranormal investigator with the wonderful name of Dr Vernon Harrison, and he believed in them.
It's a damned good subject for a painting. Not only because art history can always be reimagined as a kind of ghost story. The question of the signature remains a current topic in conceptual painting: the autograph indicates the completion of a painting, and the assertion of authenticity, and it is a harder element for painting to exorcise than any vestigial realism. But this painting pushes the question of authorship into the realm of the burlesque. The image is not claimed by just one author, but rather, here we have to deal with half a thousand daemonic acheiropoieta (plus the two teenage boys and the half-dozen voices of the dead, frozen in their wailing on the vinyl records).
The precocious cleverness of it all also fits Hernan Bas perfectly. Bas does virtuoso things with paint, with a kind of sprezzatura – weaving jokes into the paint, leaving some planes almost abstract, whilst lavishing care on tropical plants and sulky boys. It’s as if he knows how much of a taboo this kind of good painting is, and has decided to double down. Go see it.
Hernan Bas: Interiors, Peter Kilchmann
13 June–14 August 2020
Images: Hernan Bas, The curious case of Matthew Manning poltergeist, 2020 and installation view of Hernan Bas: Interiors, Peter Kilchmann, photograph: Sebastian Schaub
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