Salman Toor - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Tuesday, November 30, 2021 | Phillips
  • “I try to create moments of intimacy, camaraderie, and consolation. The characters are literary, artsy types and they revel in being fully understood by each other inside the world of painting… In East Village Iqbal Bano, they drunkenly listen to a YouTube video of a ‘60s Pakistani diva, evoking the spirit of classical Indian ghazal in a cramped apartment full of books.” 
    — Salman Toor 

    Painted in 2018 and unveiled at the artist’s solo exhibition, Salman Toor | Time After Time, hosted by the Aicon Gallery in New York that same year, East Village Iqbal Bano is a captivating work by Salman Toor. Formed of rich, tactile brushstrokes rendered in a colourful yet muted palette of dusky blue, yellow and green, two figures sit at a table on mismatched chairs, the closeness of their relationship revealed by the gentle touch of their intertwining legs. Clad in a yellow, sherwani-collared coatie and rugged brown slacks, the man on the left perches his head in his hands as he gazes upwards, as if caught in a moment of inner reverie. The other is draped in an embroidered green shawl, his eyes looking downwards into the martini glass from which he gingerly sips. Bathed in a warm twilight cast in from the window behind, a quiet cosiness is evoked by the intimate encounter that leaves us to wonder if we have stumbled in to interrupt a private moment. And yet, the manner-of-fact depiction removes of any concerns of merely peering in as bystanders, as we too, feel invited to join into the protagonists’ world.


    A Refreshing of Figurative Painting


    Whilst the work is filled with contemporary connotations—the laptop, ceramic ashtray and glowing windows of the apartment blocks outside—Toor’s painterly virtuosity renders the image with an almost Renaissance-era panache of technical perfection, dignity, aspiration and light. His mastery of this juxtaposition, Toor explains, attributes to his studies at Ohio Wesleyan University followed by his MFA at Pratt Institute from 2006 to 2009, as he found inspiration in copying the works of Old Masters, learning ‘to paint like Rubens, Van Dyck, Bernardo Strozzi, Antoine Watteau, among others.’i


    Left: Jacopo Bassano, The Supper at Emmaus, circa 1538, Collection of the Kimbell Art Museum, Texas
    Right: Anthony van Dyck, Self-Portrait, circa 1620-1621, Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


    Combining this with the influences that helped shape his early practice, namely the works of modern Pakistani and Indian painters such as Amrita Sher-Gil, Colin David, and Bhupen Khakhar, but also source material found in the billboard advertisements peppered around his hometown, Toor succeeds in seamlessly blending both Eastern and Western references, forming original compositions that grapple with art history through the filter of his own subjectivity. 


    As esteemed critic Roberta Smith for The New York Times praises, ‘Toor’s evocative, tenderly executed paintings begin to pluck at your heartstrings as soon as you see them… His delicate, caressing brush strokes and intriguing textures are somewhat too large for the images. So they remain staunchly visible and comforting, conveying crucial details and capturing the telling facial expressions at which the artist excels’.ii This is beautifully conveyed in East Village Iqbal Bano, rendered in linear, agitated brushstrokes reminiscent of Vincent van Gogh’s signature use of line. Though this works to articulate foregrounded elements, such as the patterned design of the righthand man’s green and white shawl or his painted fingernails, even the blank, heather-hued wall behind appears imbued with movement, as if dancing in the subtle changes of the dawn or dusk light.



    Left: Vincent van Gogh, Portrait of Dr. Gachet, 1890
     Collection of the Musée d'Orsay, Paris
    Right: Vincent van Gogh, At Eternity's Gate, 1890
    Collection of the Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo

    East Village Iqbal Bano


    Constructed from fantasy and memory, Toor’s paintings explore notions of autobiography, art history, and sexuality, earning favourable comparisons to the works of painters such as Jonathan Lyndon Chase and Hernan Bas - an artist whom Toor recently exhibited alongside at Perrotin in New York for their group show Them, presenting works that reclaim traditional scenes of intimacy through exploring the poetry of contemporary quotidian queer life.



    Hernan Bas, Minimalism (cracking the code), 2019
    Lot 10 – Phillips Hong Kong in Association with Poly Auction Evening Sale, 30 November 2021
    Estimate HK$ 1,000,000 - 1,500,000 / US$ 128,000 - 192,000


    Unique to Toor, however, is his portrayal of the joy yet unrest of living between two cultures, which he does so through his cast of ‘characters [who] are the kind of people who sometimes succeed in merging the seemingly irreconcilable ideas of the culturally Muslim immigrant, and the literary and artistic libertine in the Western tradition.’iii As he explains: ‘there is a feeling safety and domesticity in the paintings that I like to work with… they have so many little domestic spaces in them, like the ones that I have and my friends have in [New York’s] East Village. They are safe spaces… I grew up in a culture that was relatively conservative, so I am still attached to the safe spaces… spaces in which expression is completely safe to express everything. I like the combination of flouncy, frilly, feminine domesticity coupled with hairy brown bodies and an idea of the glamour of effeminate men. Together, happy in groups, circles of friendships… that is one of the things that really drives me, as well as the idea of ecstasy in the paintings, is the idea of queer friendships and communities of support that are really valuable because growing up my friendships were the most valuable thing to me.’iv




    Detail of the present work


    Empathetically portraying the nuances of diasporic life, the protagonists of Toor’s painting huddle around a laptop enjoying a video of a woman with a microphone which, as suggested by the title, is Pakistani ghazal singer Iqbal Bano (1935-2009). In her most famous performance held in 1985 in Toor’s home city of Lahore, she brazenly sang to thousands a ghazal titled ‘Hum Dukhein Gey’, or ‘We Will Witness’, written by the controversial socialist poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911-1984). As an act of defiance during General Zia ul Haq’s regime, under which those who were considered anti-national or secular were imprisoned and tortured in the name of shariah law, Bano’s powerful performance was met with thunderous applause, with the song becoming an anthem of hope still sung at protests decades after. As such, Bano’s feature in Toor’s East Village Iqbal Bano can be considered a profound homage to Bano, the resistance that enhances the artist’s own politics, and of the yearning for progressiveness he still longs for in his native Pakistan. 




    Iqbal Bano performing  

     “I think of the pictures as short stories where the emphasis falls on unexpected places, seemingly mundane situations become illuminating or interesting ones. It’s a way of dealing in clichés and daring to do them well.” 
    — Salman Toor

    Collector’s Digest


    Ranked among TIME magazine’s 2021 list of 100 emerging leaders shaping the future, Toor has captured the attention of the artworld as an influential voice in contemporary painting, with work now featured in the permanent collections of institutions such as the Tate Modern in London, and Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.


    Having recently presented his first museum solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, Salman Toor: How Will I Know (2020-2021), Toor has an upcoming solo exhibition scheduled to open in early 2022 at M Woods in Beijing, which will mark the artist’s first museum solo presentation in Asia.


    When Phillips were the first to debut a work by Toor at auction in Asia in December 2020, Group Dance (2012) far surpassed its estimates, achieving the artist’s top auction record at the time. Demonstrative of the artist’s rocketing success, that result has since been broken 7 times in the past year, with the current top place achieved by Phillips Hong Kong in Association with Poly Auction on 8 June 2021, when Girl with Driver (2013) soared over its pre-sale estimates of HK$1,200,000 – 2,200,000, achieving a remarkable HK$6,905,000.




    i Maria Vogel, ‘Salman Toor Disrupts Old Attitudes of Gender and Race’, Art of Choice, 10 December 2019, online

    ii Roberta Smith, ‘Salman Toor, a Painter at Home in Two Worlds’, The New York Times, 23 December 2020, online

    iii Salman Toor, quoted in Osama Shehzad, ‘Eyes Lowered’, Popula, 26 August 2021, online

    iv Salman Toor, quoted in Osama Shehzad, ‘Eyes Lowered’, Popula, 26 August 2021, online

    • Provenance

      Aicon Gallery, New York
      Private Collection, India
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, Aicon Gallery, Salman Toor | Time After Time, 26 October - 1 December 2018

Property from an Important Collection


East Village Iqbal Bano

oil on panel
61 x 61 cm. (24 x 24 in.)
Painted in 2018.

Full Cataloguing

HK$1,800,000 - 2,800,000 

Sold for HK$4,536,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 30 November 2021