Obituary: Watchful rebel

Ardeshir Mehrdad remembers an eminent artist

Ardeshir Mohassess, the eminent contemporary artist, cartoonist and painter, died on the evening of October 9 2008.

He played the music of vision in a new key and with a different rhythm. He passed colour through a different prism and redefined it through a struggle that lasted nearly half a century. He freed the line from the prison of the hand and allowed it to fly high to the level of the heart. And finally … he laid down to rest on the dot.

Neither observer nor chronicler, Ardeshir was a watchful rebel against systems of injustice. His weapon was satire, and there were not many tyrants, oppressors or dictators that were immune from its bite. No person of power or wealth entered his drawings without their mask being torn away and their inner demons exposed.

In his canvases there was no god who remained in heaven and did not fall, few shahs or sultans who hung onto their throne without their crown sinking round their neck. There was no chief, commander nor prince whose cowardice did not ooze out of their sword sheath, nor ayatollah or hojat-al-islam whose sky rose above the ceiling of their stomach.

Ardeshir opened a whole new world to portraiture. He rescued it from slavery to those who are somebody and offered it to those who are nobody. In his creations the unknown were at home and the faceless were given a face. Short and tall, fat and thin, old and young, women and men, the fallen and standing, all and everyone could turn up in his pictures.

He asked no-one for an identity card or passport, nor for a bank account, title deed or annual income. The working people - the people with empty hands, pained humanity - were the central citizens of the city that he built in his images.

He removed art from the safe limits of green meadows and from the verge of brooks. He crucified it at crossroads, whipped it in alleyways, moved it through dungeons of yoke and chain, and raised it on scaffolds. He also took it to see the red rose, but beside the firing squad; called it to meet the water lily, but only while being scattered by the storm; embraced the canary, but only when jasmine and lily of the valley were on fire.

Ardeshir was the savage critic of a vision that had stopped looking. He rediscovered beauty and rescued it from the monopoly of beauty. He did not fear to lift the curtains and to paint the portrait of dread on all that is thought beautiful. He did not fear discovering beauty in the deepest layers of what is thought ugly. He rescued beauty from the prison of conventions and moribund proportions and gave it a new life in a living movement and action.

Death had died in Ardeshir’s pictures. Long live … Ardeshir!

For more on Ardeshir Mohassess, see Middle East Left Forum: www.iran-bulletin.org