Salman Toor - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, June 30, 2022 | Phillips

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  • 'I like for the characters in my painting to move between vulnerability and empowerment. I like the foolish, marionette-like figures that evoke empathy as immigrants crossing borders, but they also have agency and dignity: things that have not been traditionally associated with our faces and our bodies in painting.'
    —Salman Toor
    Well-known for his remarkable ability to blend the present with the art historical past, Pakistani-born Salman Toor paints scenes of intimacy, camaraderie, and community, imaginatively drawing on his personal experiences as a queer Pakistani man living in New York to create tender works with incredible narrative charge. Featuring three, downcast looking men wrapped in loose fitting clothes and shawls set against a denuded background, Three Men With Trays evokes Renaissance icons and Biblical scenes as much as carrying more contemporary connotations, succeeding - in Roberta Smith’s terms - in beginning to ‘pluck your heart strings almost as soon as you see them.’i

     

    Painted in 2018, Three Men With Trays Toor uses his own experiences as an émigré living between worlds as a vantage point from which to interrogate the relationship between the two, observing points of divergence, tension, and similarity, or, as the artist explains, ‘My own positioning between places which we designate East and West is an amusing point from which to look at the world and the histories of both Indian and European painting, both of which are a part of my work.’ii Building on an earlier series of works that illustrated the rigid class divide defining social relations in Pakistan and across much of India from the point of view of an outside observer, Three Men with Trays blends commentary on the persistent divides between the affluent and the needy through the lens of a Western pictorial tradition.

     

    Telling Stories

     

    Showcasing Toor’s remarkable strength as a storyteller as much as his technical virtuosity as a painter, the scene takes on a serene stillness; a moment of quiet anticipation that is loaded with questions related to these three men – who are they, where are they, and what are their empty trays waiting for? While one man tilts his head to one side in a gesture of gentle appeal and deference, the figure to his left takes on a more defiant stance, catching our eye as he stare out of the canvas towards us, the tray gripped tightly between his hands.

     

    Standing, closely grouped together in loosely rendered, non-descriptive space, Toor plays with the idea of liminality, the allegorical ‘ in-between spaces’ that ‘can take on the feeling of an inner psychic space of some of the characters.’iii Rooted in the diasporic experience of belonging everywhere and no-where at once, a sensation keenly communicated in the present work. Removing any visual or narrative clues that we might use to anchor the dramatic tension of the scene from the environment around them, our attention is focused squarely on the three figures. In this - as in his lithe treatment of the figure and strong sense for expressive colour – Toor draws close to the evocative portraits of Vincent van Gogh, whose portraits generated a similar dramatic intensity.

     

    Vincent van Gogh, Portrait of Armand Roulin, 1888 Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, Netherlands. Image: Bridgeman Images
    Vincent van Gogh, Portrait of Armand Roulin, 1888 Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, Netherlands. Image: Bridgeman Images

     

    Learning From the Old Masters

     

    While we might bring to mind the ruddy palette and sense of quiet sufferance that characterises van Gogh’s Potato Eaters, the art historical roots of Toor’s approach to figuration go considerably deeper, referencing Dutch Old Masters, Baroque, and Neo-Classical traditions that he absorbed so eagerly when he first embarked on his art studies in the United States. Scenes of peasant life and la vie Bohème in particular preoccupied the artist, explaining how he ‘learned about the  grimy peasants in David Teniers and Bruegel, the dark-skinned servants in Dutch genre paintings, the steely refinement of an Anthony van Dyck subject, the sordid nightlife of Impressionist Paris’, finding within this rich subject matter compelling ways of approaching at ‘the relationship between the rich and the poor, ways of portraying forgiveness, race, power, dignity, exoticism, difference.’iv

     

    Peter Paul Rubens, Study of Two Heads, c.1609, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Bequest of Miss Adelaide Milton de Groot (1876-1967), 1967
CAPTION: Detail of the present work
    [Left] Peter Paul Rubens, Study of Two Heads, c.1609, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Bequest of Miss Adelaide Milton de Groot (1876-1967), 1967

    [Right] Detail of the present work

     

    Executed in earthy tones accented by touches of soft violet and blue on board, Three Men With Trays draws fruitfully on this art historical legacy, recalling the high contrasts of light and shadow, sense of movement, and dramatic sensuality of Paul Peter Reubens’ portraits. Reflecting on his time as a student and his immersion into a European art historical tradition, Toor explains ‘Instead of moving with the times, I wanted an academic education in painting […] I wanted to be as good as the White Old Masters. In fact, I was only happy when I could pretend that I was a 17th century or 18th century painter living in Madrid, Venice, or Holland.’v

     

    Broaching a global conversation on identity, belonging, and developing his uniquely compelling brand of empathetic aesthetics, Salman Toor bridges the personal and the universal, the autobiographic and the imaginary, drawing close to the the Old Masters, while speaking profoundly to the present moment.

     

    Collector’s Digest

     

    • Ranked among TIME magazine’s 2021 list of 100 emerging leaders shaping the future, Salman 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 will soon be presenting his first solo exhibition in Asia at M Woods in Beijing.

     

    • 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 many times over, and global interest in Toor’s figurative painting remains strong. 


    i Roberta Smith, ‘Salman Toor, a Painter at Home in Two Worlds’, New York Times, 23 December 2020, online
    ii Salman Toor, quoted in Micah Pegues, ‘Issue No. 1. Interview with Salman Toor, Polychrome Magazine, 11 February 2019, online.
    iii Salman Toor, quoted in Cassie Packard, ‘Blurring the Lines between Public and Private: Salman Toor Interviewed by Cassie Packard’, BOMB Magazine, February 12, 2021, online. 
    iv Salman Toor, quoted in Cassie Packard, ‘Blurring the Lines between Public and Private: Salman Toor Interviewed by Cassie Packard’, BOMB Magazine, February 12, 2021, online. 
    v Salman Toor, quoted in Ayla Angelos, ‘”I wanted to be as good as the white old masters”: meet painter Salman Toor,’ It’s Nice That, November 7, 2019, online. 

    • Condition Report

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    • Description

      View our Conditions of Sale.

    • Provenance

      Private Collection, Pakistan (acquired directly from the artist)
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Lahore, Hazoori Bagh, First Lahore Biennale (LB01), 18 March – 31 March 2018

Ο ◆30

Three Men with Trays

oil on panel
60.6 x 50.5 cm (23 7/8 x 19 7/8 in.)
Painted in 2018.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
£250,000 - 350,000 

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Contact Specialist

Kate Bryan
Head of Evening Sale
+44 7391 402741
[email protected]

 

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 30 June 2022