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  • Overview

    '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

    Currently the subject of significant critical and institutional praise – most compellingly materialised by a major solo exhibition slated to take place at the Whitney Museum of Art, New York – the Pakistani-born artist Salman Toor explores subjects of intimacy and togetherness, specifically in the imagined lives of young, queer Brown men residing between the city of New York and South Asia. Combining academic technique and a quick, sketch-like style, Toor’s Aashiana (Hearth and Home) depicts a mother lovingly embracing her two young daughters whilst glancing at an open book. At the lower centre of the composition, obfuscating the lain book and turning his back to the viewer, a miniature man – perhaps the real protagonist of the picture – looks onto the scene, shadowed to the right by a group of seated witnesses. Behind the woman and children, a lush background takes shape combining real elements (a sky, a bushy forest, a car) and quasi-fantastical components (a gingerbread house, cartoonishly colourful trees). The three layers with which Toor composes the overall image seem progressional: the first, depicting the seemingly impoverished minuscule figures, point and lead to the second, featuring an ostensibly Westernised mother with her daughters, finally culminating in a busy, colourful backdrop, emblematic of modern Western culture. As such, Aashiana (Hearth and Home) captures the artist’s ability to portray people ‘who stand at the crux of two societies: one being developing countries; and the other, the 'developed' West’.i

     

    Academic Undertones

     

    Drawing from his education in academic painting, Toor confessed, ‘I definitely look at the world through an art historical lens, always finding it everywhere’.ii During his studies at Ohio Wesleyan University, followed by his MFA at Pratt Institute, from 2006 to 2009, the artist spent countless hours poring over the works of Rococo, Baroque, and Neoclassical-era masters including Caravaggio, Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck, and Jean-Antoine Watteau. Over the course of his growing up in Lahore, Pakistan, he also became deeply knowledgeable about the works of modern Pakistani and Indian painters such as Colin David, Bhupen Khakhar, and Amrita Sher-Gil, comprising their idiosyncratic modes of portraiture within his own painterly representations. In Aashiana (Hearth and Home), the layered image’s multifarious themes blend categories of old and new, where inspiration from Old Master painting techniques meld seamlessly with imagery from South Asian mass-media and popular culture. The family scene dominating the centre of the composition bears conspicuous affinities with the biblical tableaux highlighting the relationship between Mary and her son Jesus – notably Rubens’s tender formulation of the subject, residing at the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. 

     

    Peter Paul Rubens, Virgin with Child, circa 16th century, oil on canvas, State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. Image: Bridgeman Images.

     

    Modernising the familial theme and bringing light to current issues, Aashiana (Hearth and Home) presages Toor’s more recent works, of which the atmospheric feel presents a unique vision of the complexities and exchanges between South Asian popular culture and the art historical traditions of Western idealisation. It specifically echoes the artist’s 9PM, The News, currently residing in the Tate, London, which similarly depicts a family sitting around a table, following their evening meal.  

     

    Salman Toor, 9PM, the News, 2015, oil on canvas, Tate Collection, London. © Salman Toor; Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York. Image: Tate, London.
    Between East and West

    Much of Toor’s early source material also came from Pakistani advertisements, as well as South Asian soap operas from the 1970s – images that surrounded him daily when he was growing up. Eastern and Western references thus bustle and interact at the core of his work, highlighting the spaces where they collide or harmonise. In Aashiana (Hearth and Home), the dwarfed characters in the lower right quadrant of the composition appear to represent cross-continental travellers, dressed in ordinary garments. Ahead of them stands a man, presumably working class, looking at his potential future: a family fully absorbed in American life. Indeed, ‘The younger [...] man looks up towards the mother and children, as if wishing he could leave the dreariness of everyday life to inhabit their perfect world’, writes Isabella E. Hughes.iii  In this part-fraught, part-idealistic setting, Toor’s figures are freed from the impositions placed upon them by the outside world, conveying an 'in-betweener aura' that mirrors his own dual cultural understanding.iv  Taken as a whole, they consider vulnerability within contemporary public and private life, and the notion of community in the context of diasporic identity. 

     

     

    Salman Toor in Conversation

     

    In a 2019 interview with Polychrome Mag, Salman Toor discussed the importance of pop culture and autobiographical elements in his artistic practice.

     

    Micah Pegues: You paint both familial and mundane situations. Can you elaborate on that? 

     

    Salman Toor: Years ago, I used to get my compositions from local ads in Pakistan. Fashion ads and ads for appliances, new housing schemes etc. Ads as illustrations of aspiration, of people’s wishes were something that defined a society so completely for me that, in a place where identity is a constant subject for questioning and art, I couldn’t resist using them. Ads as reality improved, more vivid, more beautiful. These ads contained a lot of the seemingly mundane situations which I saw as a parallel to genre painting, first started in Northern Europe in the Reformation years. I like to transform those seemingly mundane situations into something more prescient. 

     

    Maybe some of it comes from reading. I’m a student of Chekhov's stories and contemporary fiction out of Pakistan like Daniyal Muennuddin’s short stories In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, and Moni Mohsin’s comedies. 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, and liking them too. 

     

    Read the rest of the interview here.

     

    Maxine Wally, ‘For Salman Toor, Art Functions as an Anti-Anxiety Practice’, W Magazine, 16 March 2020, online.

    ii Salman Toor, quoted in Ambika Trasi, ‘The Self as Cipher: Salman Toor’s Narrative Paintings’, Salman Toor: How Will I Knowreproduced online.

    iii Isabella E. Hughes, ‘Stop, Play, Pause, Repeat’, ArtAsiaPacific, undated, online.
    iv Nidhi Gupta, 'Pakistani-origin, New York-based artist Salman Toor wants to paint a world where the East and West harmonise', GQ India, 12 March 2020, online.

    • Provenance

      Aicon Gallery, New York
      Private Collection
      Private Collection

    • Exhibited

      Dubai, Lawrie Shabibi, Stop, Play, Pause, Repeat, 24 September - 31 October 2012
      New York, Aicon Gallery, The Happy Servant: Recent Works by Salman Toor, 10 May - 29 June 2013

2

Aashiana (Hearth and Home)

signed and dated 'Salman Toor '12' on the reverse
oil on canvas
101.6 x 111.8 cm (40 x 44 in.)
Painted in 2012.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
£30,000 - 50,000 

Sold for £138,600

Contact Specialist

Kate Bryan
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4026
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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 20 October 2020