Ardeshir Mohassess, an Iranian artist long resident in America who pushed the art of the cartoon to almost Surrealist satire of his native land in work both popular and profound died of a heart attack on Oct. 9 in Manhattan. He was 70.
He was a caricaturist often compared with Saul Steinberg for the bite and style of his cartoons, but he also drew inspiration from masters like Daumier and Picasso, as well as from Iranian religious art of the 16th and 17th centuries.
Mr. Mohassess’s target was broader than any single government, although he fled to New York in 1976, after Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who ruled Iran from 1941 to 1979, took exception to his work. His anti-shah cartoons used settings and costumes of the Qajar dynasty of 1794 to 1925 – a misdirection that fooled nobody.
After the Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in the Islamic revolution of 1979, Mr. Mohassess took more direct aim from his American exile at the new religious government.
His images were preternaturally disturbing. A turbaned figure draws a picture of his own amputated feet; they rest on pedestals created by his own surreally upturned lower legs. Captions were acidly caustic: “The convict’s execution coincided with the king’s birthday ceremonies,” one said.
Ardeshir Mohassess was born on Sept. 9, 1938, in Rasht, in northwest Iran. At 3, he began drawing characters from his mother’s bedtime stories. He published his first cartoon in 1951, The Iran Bulletin (now named Iran Bulletin – Middle East Forum) reported.
He next began to draw cartoons for the daily newspaper Keyhan. He was at first unpaid, but made one demand, that the newspaper not make any modifications whatsoever in his work. He began to get good reviews and published his first anthology in 1971.
His popularity provoked interest by Savak, the shah’s secret police. With his jobs drying up, Mr. Mohassess settled permanently in New York in 1977, where he was soon published in The New York Times, The Nation, Playboy and elsewhere. He also exhibited in galleries and drew the attention of critics fascinated by his eclectic influences, which included centuries-old Shiite art depicting eye-popping violence.
Despite having Parkinson’s disease, he worked almost until his death. Earlier this year the Asia Society had a major exhibition of his work. A gallery in Tehran showed his work in each of the last three years, with brisk sales each time.