FARHAD MOSHIRI at his studio in Tehran, 2008. Photo by Shirin Aliabadi for ArtAsiaPacific.

Where I Work

Farhad Moshiri


An immense and noisy city, Tehran resembles Los Angeles: traffic jams snarl the freeways until two in the morning. A traveler’s apprehension slips away minutes after landing in Tehran even early in the morning. The city’s constant activity and energetic commotion put the weary visitor at ease, suggesting an underground life that counters the official bans and cultural censorship enforced by the Revolutionary Guards.

Later that morning—not too early, as one learns quickly that Farhad Moshiri is not an early riser—the artist arrived at the hotel for an artistic blind date following successive rounds of engaging, long-distance emails. Moshiri is intelligent, sensitive and consistently humorous. Born in the former Persian capital of Shiraz, known as an artistic and intellectual haven, Moshiri studied just outside Los Angeles at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) in the 1980s. He returned to Iran a decade later and since then he has exhibited regularly in Tehran, as well as in Europe.

Moshiri led a tour of the city on the way back to his home and studio, which is located at the end of an alley in a comfortable middle-class neighborhood where many of the city’s artists reside. Moshiri lives in the two-story house with Shirin Aliabadi, a renowned photographer and artist. At the time, there were dozens of paintings and embroideries in Moshiri’s studio waiting to be packed into a container for shipping to the Third Line Gallery, where he shows in Dubai.

Though he’s best known for his large-scale paintings with deliberately distressed surfaces depicting traditional clay jars covered with Farsi calligraphy, Moshiri’s “Candy Store” paintings are saturated with color and layers of iconography. On top of hyperrealist images of cakes painted in oil, Farhad superimposes the graphic outlines of figures made from blobs of acrylic paint that recall the frosting on miniature cupcakes. These ironic, flashy new works embody Moshiri’s spirit. Demonstrating an alliance of Iranian kitsch and conceptual art, the artisan and the minimalist, the traditional and the modern, Moshiri’s paintings juxtapose references to Iran’s ebullient traditional culture and its turbulent political history.

Moshiri’s office is lined ceiling to floor with white shelves that he’s packed full of brightly colored plastic toy figures, many still in their original packaging. Along the top of the shelves are musty old pots and at the desk where he works Moshiri sits in an ornate gilded chair. In an adjacent large room with canvases on the floor and propped against the wall, there are more golden chairs and a faux-rococo side table of the kind seen in France’s opulent chateaus. There is no shortage of eccentric props in Moshiri’s house. One of his favorites is a bright red, retro bicycle with ape-hanger handlebars and a chopper-style seat that echoes his paintings’ clashing themes: an earnest nostalgia for a child-like state of mind and ironic interjections referencing Iran’s recent history. Fighter planes cut from Persian rugs, Iran’s former Supreme Leader, Musawi Khomeini, ensconced in a massive pink heart: strife lurks beneath even the rosiest of Moshiri’s fantasies.