Salman Toor - New Now London Tuesday, July 13, 2021 | Phillips

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  • 'Art history has formed my imaginary map of the world, conquests, migrations, ideas of civilization, foreignness, and fashion. I like seeing the thread of the past in the present'. —Salman Toor 

    Born in Pakistan in 1983, New York-based figurative artist Salman Toor deftly blends European art historical reference with autobiographic elements in a nuanced and compelling expression of the diasporic experience or, as the artist has described it, ‘in the idea that you may not belong anywhere while thinking that you belong in multiple places.’i This sense of simultaneity is particularly pronounced in Holy Goat, where the vernacular of European Romanticism is fused with charged symbols particular to Pakistani and South Asian religious and cultural practice in a tellingly self-referential gesture.

    Taking on special significance within multiple cultural and religious contexts, the goat is an animal with particularly strong symbolic connections to ideas around sacrifice and superstition. Foundational to the idea of the ‘scapegoat,’ in Leviticus twin goats are brought into a village and while one is sacrificed, the other’s horns are wrapped in red cloth before being sent back out into the wilderness, carrying the sins of the community with it. Appearing in both the Old Testament and the Qur’an, the story of a father asked by God to sacrifice his son as a test of his faith is also powerfully resonant, the sacrificial goat still forming a central part of the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha as a symbol of this willingness towards self-abnegation. Visibly tethered and standing on a rich, red fabric with an open book laid out behind it, Toor’s goat carries this sense of the ceremonial and symbolic, but also carries with it personal questions around tradition and identity.  
    'I see myself as a traveller wandering between boundaries and working within the fruitful dissonance, understanding and confusion that comes with leaving my community of origin. The culture of that community is at a crossroads, with a shifting sense of belonging and an intense debate about its identity. There [is] a physical and intellectual war between monolithic idea of religion and a flexible humanistic one. Those issues are part of my work.' —Salman Toor  

    Toor’s intensive study of Old Master paintings is in evidence here, his attention to form and bold naturalistic rendering of the goat reminiscent of the Baroque, animal-filled landscapes of Peter Paul Roos, or Antione Watteau’s Arcadian visions. There is perhaps also a nod to Marc Chagall’s visionary compositions, where goats regularly appear as a bridge between the displaced artist and the Belarusian villages of his childhood.

    Pulsing with a sinuous, muscular neon green line worked over this almost neo-classically smooth surface, Holy Goat captures a sense of tension and rupture, expressive of the sense of confusion that Toor has eloquently described as a result leaving one’s community of origin. The passionate sense of colour frequently identified by reviewers of Toor’s recent and much celebrated first solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art is also confidently expressed here, further intensified in the energetic neon whorls and eddies that run across the canvas. Moving seamlessly between abstraction and representation, this robust line energises the entire composition, breaking spontaneously into knotted clusters of figuration before dissolving once again. Visually recalling musical notation or the street graffiti around Lahore, a series of connected orb shapes animate the canvas. As in Toor’s finest canvases, Holy Goat records a ‘combination of seriousness and playfulness, material richness and implied narrative.’ii


    Salman Toor discussing his practice in interview with the curator of ‘RELATIONS: Diaspora and Painting’ at Fondation PHI pour l’art contemporain, November 2020


    i Salman Toor, quoted in Cassie Packard, ‘Blurring the Lines between Public and Private: Salman Toor Interviewed by Cassie Packard’, Bomb, 12 April 2021, online
    ii Karen Wilkin, ‘Salman Toor at the Whitney’, New Criterion, March 2021, online 

    • Provenance

      Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner


Holy Goat

signed with the artist's initials and dated 'ST10' on the reverse
oil on canvas
137 x 137 cm (53 7/8 x 53 7/8 in.)
Painted in 2010.

Full Cataloguing

£70,000 - 100,000 

Sold for £81,900

Contact Specialist

Simon Tovey
Head of New Now Sale
+44 20 7318 4084

New Now

London Auction 13 July 2021