Salman Toor - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale London Wednesday, June 29, 2022 | Phillips

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  • Central to Salman Toor’s astronomic rise to prominence and established reputation, lies his ability to create innate intimacy, beauty, and space for personal reflection. Toor manages to create a sense of familiarity in his painterly created places. Growing up in Lahore, Pakistan as a gay man, the artist now lives in New York, where he has found solace in safe locations, built with trusted friends living in the diaspora.


    Painted in 2017, Cloudy Day is an exceptional example of Salman Toor’s amalgamation of his studies of the Old Masters with his life in New York. The work is built from an essential push and pull between the old and established and the contemporary and modern everyday. In 2006, Toor moved from Lahore to Ohio to study painting at the Ohio Wesleyan University. It was here that he learnt about oil painting for the first time and his fascination with the Old Master’s took hold: ‘I learnt by taking art history classes and I became obsessed with traditional European painting of the 18th Century, Baroque and Early Renaissance: I wanted to go through all of those stages myself. There were a lot of uncomfortable questions that came up later as to why I was not doing something traditional from my culture, but that didn’t stop me. I feel like it is a great love of the stories that can be told through oil painting that bring people together, and the sight of so many paintings telling simultaneously the stories of a culture and I wanted to recreate something like that around my own story and similar stories.’i

    The narratives told in Toor’s works are fictional. In Cloudy Day, Toor depicts an everyday scene, pulling together stylistic references to the Old Masters, whilst also addressing those figures, settings and subjects that are missing from the art historical canon. ‘I like the idea of a direct narrative and I work differently from those [Old Master] artists in that all these narratives are imaginary - their gift to me, from learning from copying the Masters for such a long time, helped me to recreate an imagination that was very vivid.’ii In the present example, Toor renders his scene in the deep jewel colour palette associated with artists from the 17th Century. The rich golds and warm reds seemingly glimmer with a soft warmth, exquisitely offset by the natural light that pours in from the windows. A beautifully depicted still-life of a rose is set in the foreground; a meticulously observed glass sits on the edge of the table; and the carefully handled painting and serene quality of the man’s face harks to the work of Michelangelo. In the background we see figures perhaps drawn from Toor’s Pakistani routes: the group of three men standing under the trees outside are dressed in traditional Pakistani clothing.


    Detail of Michelangelo, The Last Judgement, fresco. Image: Scala, Florence

    In contrast to the historic style, Toor’s narrative is placed in the 21st Century. The figures in the foreground wear western contemporary clothing; the male figure contemplating, mid-thought, holds a mobile phone. Smartphones and laptops are as ubiquitous in Toor’s paintings as they are in real life, alongside Toor’s instinctive references to art history.


    Through his deft handling of oil paint, Toor melds everyday contemporary life with art history in his figurative works that tell a modern narrative. Softly highlighting questions around alternative narratives left out of history and art, Toor explores representations of sexuality and friendship.


    Living Histories: In Conversation with Salman Toor


    i Salman Toor, quoted in ‘TalkArt’, podcast, 13 November 2020
    ii Salman Toor, quoted in ‘TalkArt’, podcast, 13 November 2020

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    • Description

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    • Provenance

      Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner


Cloudy Day

signed and dated 'Salman Toor '17' on the reverse
oil on canvas
101.3 x 101.3 cm (39 7/8 x 39 7/8 in.)
Painted in 2017.

Full Cataloguing

£150,000 - 200,000 

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Simon Tovey

Specialist, Associate Director, Head of Day Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art
+44 20 7318 4084

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

London Auction 29 June 2022