Davood Roostaei, Famed Iranian-American Painter, Dies at 63

The artist was jailed for two years in Iran in the early ’80s for his “subversive” art

Davood Roostaei
Davood Roostaei (Photo courtesy of Anderson Group PR)

Iranian-American artist Davood Roostaei passed away suddenly this week in Los Angeles, where he has called home for the last 23 years, his publicists at Anderson Group told TheWrap on Friday.

Roostaei was born in Iran in 1959 and studied at Tehran’s Academy of Fine Arts in the late 1970s, until the Islamic Revolution made that impossible. He was jailed for two years for his art that was deemed subversive by the new regime. After his release, he sought asylum in Hamburg, Germany, where he embraced the neo-expressionism “die neue Wilde” style. He gave up brushes and began to paint with only his fingers and went on to create a technique he called Cryptorealism.

As he explained in 2022, “Cryptorealism is an expression of hidden meaning revealed through layered imagery, which requires active participation by the observer.”

Famous collectors of Roostaei’s work include Paul McCartney, Anthony Hopkins and Hillary Clinton. His paintings are currently on display at Beijing’s Museum of Contemporary Art, Vancouver Fine Art Gallery and Pashmin Art Gallery in Shanghai and in Hamburg. Many of Roostaei’s works have sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In January, L.A. art critic Peter Frank wrote about Roostaei in Whitehot Magazine, saying “The painter, himself tossed about on the swells of history — not just art history, but human history — has devised a method for displaying and hiding both image and meaning…”