Born in 1931 in Rasht, Mohasses fled Iran after the coup against Prime Minister Mossadegh and settled in Rome in 1954. One of the first Iranian students to attend the Accademia di Belle Arti di Roma, Mohasses found himself in one of the great centres of European classicism. Spending much of his life between Italy and Iran, the artist drew inspiration from the mythological cast of classical Roman statuary, the formal preoccupations of Renaissance sculpture and the surrealist and expressionist practices of post-war Italian modernism. He also remained however, inextricably linked to the vibrant but politically volatile landscape of his native Iran.
It was this tension between his birthplace and his adopted European home which seemed to form the basis of his work as an artist. He was influenced by Marino Marini and Giorgio Morandi, and particularly respected their considered use of impasto and often austere yet painterly perspectives. The sinewy torsion of bodies in Mohasses’ work also makes evident the influence of Francis Bacon, whose probing exploration of the human condition through the lens of the body finds an echo in the truncated, deformed extremities of the present work. Mohasses devotes an almost Michelangelo-like attention to musculature but with an ostensibly different objective: this is a myth more Barthesian than Greek, one that describes a daily ontological struggle more than any storied paradigm of strength and ideal beauty. The artist’s unique form of chiaroscuro confers depth, volume and heaviness to the foregrounded limbs, while the notable lack of hands or feet speaks to a feeling of rootlessness and displacement. This lack of anchorage and dexterity was an experience lived by Mohasses himself, who often felt alienated and helpless in a world ravaged by political conflict and cultural adversity.
Untitled is a haunting composition almost entirely occupied by a contorted white figure, who sits in a blue-grey marine landscape. There is an unmistakeable resonance with Picasso’s Bathers series from the late 1930s, yet those sensuous, playful configurations find themselves inevitably transformed here under Mohasses’ unyielding brush. Picasso’s azure, Cycladic clarity is replaced with a darker picture where liminality is thematised rather than described. There is a precarity inherent to the staging of the protagonist, who is caught between the inescapable gaze of the viewer and the hostile opacity of the blue seascape behind. The artist creates a surprising amalgam of great strength and profound vulnerability in this central figure who is physically powerful, but seems to cower in shame or fear, facing away from the essentially voyeuristic eyes of the viewer.
The present work rivals Requiem Omnibus (1968), sold at Sotheby’s in April 2017, in terms of quality, historicism and rarity at public auction. The provenance of the work is also particularly noteworthy in that the previous owner worked in the office of the Empress Farah Diba at the Niavaran Complex in Tehran. The Empress was herself a great admirer of Mohasses; she and her husband Reza Shah Pahlavi gave the artist several commissions during this period. The visceral, extraordinary power of the present work coupled with its historic pedigree make certain that it is undeniably a collector’s piece.
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