Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art / Arab & Iranian


Bahman Mohasses

signed; signed, titled and dated 1966 on the reverse

oil on canvas
70.5 by 50cm.; 27 3/4 by 19 5/8 in.
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Private Collection
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner circa 1990


Rouin Pakbaz, Iran's Painting: From past to present, Tehran 2000, p. 195, illustrated in colour

Catalogue Note

This is dedicated to an extraordinary artist who died this year on July 28th.

In order to appreciate Mohasses' compelling work, it is essential to have a sense of the man himself, as his work is self-referential and entirely dominated by his own psyche.

Mohasses lived alone for almost eighty years, spending a great deal of time abroad and away from his wife. A reclusive character, uncomfortable in both Iran and Italy: a homeland that he rejected and a surrogate land that misunderstood him, he suffered for his art, and his isolation found expression in his paintings with their subdued palette, pared down geometric forms and nonconformist subject matter.

Mohasses spent a great deal of time in Italy, where he is likely to have studied the Renaissance masters, in particular the work of Michelangelo Buonarroti, for he shared with Michelangelo a love of the male form and a sculptural quality in execution that is undeniable. The powerful torso of the Minotaur in this painting is comparable to the broad shoulders, muscular chest and narrow waist of Michelangelo's male subject matter, the most iconic of which is of course his David. Both figures represent an ideal, although Mohasses never sought to create beauty, in fact he rejected beauty in place of ugliness believing that ugliness had its own unique aesthetic, and it is perhaps this rejection of accepted norms that fuelled his hermitic lifestyle, as well as his love of the Minotaur, a figure that recurs throughout his ouevre.

Mohasses was fascinated by Greek mythology, one of the most tragic figures of which is the Minotaur. The man-bull offspring of Pasiphae, the Cretan queen, with a white bull bestowed as a gift on the Minoans by the sea-god Poseidon.  The offspring produced by their coupling was trapped at the centre of a maze, and eventually destroyed by the Athenian warrior Theseus. The result of a cruel joke played on man by the gods, neither man nor beast, rejected by both and trapped at the centre of a maze due to its natural instincts, it is arguably a metaphor for a man driven by his artistic impulses and rejected by both Iran and Europe through no fault of his own. The rejection of his work by his Italian milieu was clearly keenly felt by the artist, who recorded in a letter to his friend Sohrab Sepehri that his solo exhibition in Rome was ultimately unsuccessful as the Italian collecting public didn't believe he had longevity on the Italian art scene due to his ethnicity. Mohasses felt restricted by his Iranian identity, and this cultural constraint plagued his career and manifested itself in the isolated and unlikely heroes of his art.

Minotauro is a classic example of Mohasses at his most fascinating, the psychology of his art, the power of his canvas and the life-style that motivated him is all captured in this tormented yet superbly rendered subject.

Contemporary Art / Arab & Iranian