Following a period of research, while in residence at Jesus College Cambridge in 2016, Bas developed new subject matter including the famed Night Climbers of Cambridge, a group of students whose nocturnal ascents of the ancient buildings of the university and town, taking photographs while trying to avoid detection, gained them a cult following during the early decades of the twentieth century.
The notoriety of this thrill-seeking fraternity was cemented when an eponymous book, written under the pseudonym Whipplesnaith, was published by Chatto and Windus in 1937, featuring photographs of members perched atop steeples and squeezed between pillars without climbing ropes and often dressed in dapper evening attire.
An aura of camaraderie, transgression, eroticism and decadence permeates other works on display, which feature Cambridge societies such as the secretive Adonians, famed for their fabled dinners in which fellows and old boys invite the most attractive male undergraduates. The debauchery of a more inclusive and contemporary kind is witnessed in the artist’s depiction of Caesarian Sunday, the first of Cambridge’s summer drinking parties traditionally held on the Sunday of the May Bank Holiday weekend, and the notorious after-exams party Suicide Sunday, held in June, and its traditional cardboard boat race.
In his depiction of this, Bas makes a gentle nod to Théodore Gericault’s The Raft of the Medusa, 1818-19, although allusions to classical themes and genres are always viewed through the prism of his interpretations as an observer and an outsider – whether trying to follow in the footsteps of Lord Byron, or portraying punters or freshers, terms unknown to the artist before his Cambridge sojourn.
Cambridge Living kicks off on 6 September at Victoria Miro Mayfair, and runs until 21 October 2017. For more info, visit victoria-miro.com.
Main image: Suicide Sunday (taking on water), 2017. Acrylic and pigment on linen 153 x 183 cm, 60 x 72 in © Hernan Bas, courtesy Victoria Miro