By Harriet Baker
When the Detroit-based artist Hernan Bas arrived at Jesus College, Cambridge, for a period of research in 2016, he didn’t know what ‘fresher’ meant. The term, familiar to anyone who’s been to a British university, is used to describe first-year undergraduates and hints at much of the bravado of student life. At Cambridge, the word has more legendary connotations, calling to mind the university’s dining clubs, ancient initiation rites and the decadence of undergraduate parties, all played out in the timeless splendour of the colleges and along the sweep of the River Cam.
At Victoria Miro’s Mayfair space, nine new figurative paintings by Bas are inspired by the mythos of varsity life. Featuring young men punting on the river or scaling the city’s historic architecture, these works draw on the lore of Cambridge to create contemporary coming-of-age narratives. The paintings have a dreamlike quality, as though time has been suspended; their subjects are on the cusp of sexual maturity, at once recognizable and anonymous, intimate and aloof.
Image: Charon of the River Cam (Slain Swans), 2017
© Hernan Bas, courtesy Victoria Miro