During the years of 1964- 1968, he lived permanently in Iran, later on moving to Italy. While in Rome, his artistic scope flourished. He synthesized his own figurative approach, classical Etruscan sculpture, and new contemporaneous European styles. Mohasses' seminal paintings, including Untitled from 1965, portray a reference to the great Italian sculptor and painter, Marino Marini. Marini’s Horse and Rider (1949) is among many of Marini’s bronze equestrian statues, inspired by the mythical gallant knights of Medieval Europe and Roman Mythology. In Marini’s eyes, these men on horseback show the powerful harmony between man and steed, while illuminating the grace and balance of the warrior. Mohasses draws from Marini’s statues during a slightly later period through new mediums and new contexts.
For Mohasses, the empty brown space around this abstract character illuminates the privileged position associated with being a quintessential hero figure, but in that same vein, Mohasses seeks to explore the subsequent element of solitude. In Mohasses' painting both figures are masked—Mohasses’ hero is not who he seems. Both the man and his steed are shown with smiling face-coverings, suggesting an ulterior and subversive truth underneath, as if they were actors in a Classical comedic play. Mohasses’ important figurative painting complements and challenges Marini’s oeuvre, adding a nuanced layer to the conventional trope of the cavalier. By weathering and texturizing the canvas, Mohasses’s work leads the viewer to the metallic equestrian statues of the Classical period and his predecessor, Marino Marini. However, his additional use of satire brings to light his insatiable thirst for eccentricity and drama.
In a biographical documentary titled Fifi Howls from Happiness about the life of Bahman Mohasses directed by Mitra Farahani, he states, “my creatures exist on a theatre stage.” Mohasses’ work thrives in its seamless ability to conjure suspense and fantasy for the viewer. This feature of his oeuvre reflects Mohasses’ avid fluency in the theatrical arts. Mohasses played many roles throughout his life, but among the most prominent was acting as a theatre director and stage designer. One of his most celebrated theatrical productions was his 1966 production of Ionesco’s The Chairs, where he masterfully curated an abstracted rendition of a forest with just an assembly of hand-crafted chairs, mixing in elements of sculptural forms. Mohasses, alongside artists, Bijan Saffari and Fereydoun Ave was a pioneer in theatrical design in Iran, using the stage to construct enlivened art installations with their own distinct narrative power. Before Mohasses’ ascension into the Iranian theatre in the 1960s, stage design had minimal impact on the play itself. The stage only acted as a static platform for the actors. Mohasses’ paintings and sculptures take from his interdisciplinary approach, weaving various artistic practices with his thoughtful compositions.
Unapologetically eccentric at a period of radical social change, Mohasses was aware of his unique position and often painted and sculpted works that highlighted the innate isolation of the modern human. Half human, half beast - his recurring character, the Minotaur, mediates the artist’s turmoil, appearing in varied forms throughout his career. The social relevance of Mohasses’ artworks lingers in Iran today, albeit with a history of controversy. The psychological and political component of Mohasses’ work has striking similarities to that of his fellow modern painter, Francis Bacon. Both artists tend to peek into their own subconscious to create beautiful and critical works regarding issues of sexuality and social otherness. Bacon’s Self-Portrait (1969) is oil on canvas painting that features an image of a bulbous and distorted version of a man’s face staring directly out of the canvas. Just like Mohasses’ mythic severed characters, the unsettling nature of Bacon’s face arrest the viewer—trapping them in a state of intrigue.
Mohasses participated in many exhibitions in Italy and abroad such as the Venice Biennale and held solo exhibitions in São Paulo, Brazil and Paris, France. In a ground-breaking exhibition at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art in 2017, a selection of Mohasses’ surviving artworks were featured alongside masterworks by Francis Bacon including his Two Figures Lying on a Bed with Attendants. Sotheby’s is honoured to be offering such a daring and influential piece by this extraordinary artist who is cherished as one of the leading masters of Iranian modern art.
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