Salman Toor's Intimate Artscapes Celebrate Queerness And Racial Diversity

Salman Toor at the Lyon Biennale,2022
Salman Toor at the Lyon Biennale,2022Bryan Derballa

Love and Lonelinessness in the time of Post-Modernism is an overarching theme in Salman Toor’s work and the artist captures it by bringing attention to the fragility and introducing a queer sensibility. Salman Toor was born and brought up in a middle-class household in Lahore, Pakistan. Having spent the first 14 years of his life in Pakistan, Toor moved from his genteel colonial all-boys high school in Lahore to Ohio. He graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BFA and obtained his MFA from the Pratt Institute. The homophobic culture that he grew up around, the multiculturalism, and the diversity of identity as a Pakistani-born queer artist based out of America thoroughly reflects in his works.

During the genesis of his career, like many artists, Toor obsessed over the old European masters from the Baroque and Neo-Classical eras. He soon realized that to emulate them is an exercise in futility as one can never be as proficient as the old masters and even if they are, that work has already been done. This propelled him towards newness — to create paintings that depict the contemporary times-the self-referential now. Toor started dabbling with figurative paintings in an auto-fictional setting, which he calls “compositions sprung from mundane everyday life". Toors’ vision is to take these mundane scenarios and metamorphose them into something else.

“I like to transform those seemingly mundane situations into something more prescient.”, he once said in an interview.

For Toor, the bodies in his paintings become a station for memory; a site to exercise his fantasies. He does not draw from references and lets his mind conjure up figures and settings born out of a mixture of memory and fantasy. One can say that his paintings oscillate between abstraction and representation, without weighing in too heavily, on either. The settings in Toor’s paintings are varied — ranging from Brown men alone in their private spaces, hanging out with their friends in a park or an apartment, sipping drinks in a local bar.“I like the idea of the public and the private in paintings,” says Toor, while remarking on the sublimated bodies and settings of his paintings. “And how the public can invade the private. I love creating interior spaces that are very private and cozy and domestic because I grew up in a homophobic culture. I feel the need to create safe spaces and I do that through paintings. A lot of the plushness of it, the comfort level of these interior spaces, excites me as I paint them. I want more. These are imaginary spaces and I am just trying to imagine what I would like to have in them.”

The Green Room
Oil on Canvas
71 x 49 inches
2019
The Green Room Oil on Canvas 71 x 49 inches 2019Salman Toor
Ghost Story
Oil on Canvas 
23 x 31 inches 
2019
Ghost Story Oil on Canvas 23 x 31 inches 2019Salman Toor

The idea of reclaiming space or creating a new space is a major theme in Toor’s works. Renowned American composer Lin-Manuel Miranda once said “All art is political” in context to the role of artists in society and this is immaculately portrayed in Toor’s works. The spaces he creates are spaces of inclusion for those people that society, even today, deems as the other. He shows Brown men in westernized settings and breaks heteronormative stereotypes. With one stroke his paintings are addressing issues of gender and race as he depicts the angst of a Brown man living in America and the celebration of queerness. Just like from far away a person can always recognize a Francis Bacon or a Goya painting, Salman Toor’s use of emerald/absinthe green has created his signature style. Toor started using the color green in 2019, to depict “a space of self; for enhancing the self.”

While figures languishing in social situations constitute a large part of Toor’s oeuvre, the artist also explores the loneliness of the post-modern world—a world ravaged by an invisible virus. The physicality of Toor’s artwork shows how identities are forged in isolation. His paintings often have modern-day technology such as smartphones and laptops amidst living, breathing humans. The painting below shows two friends in the middle of a conversation, with a laptop open. It creates the impression in the mind of the viewer that a laptop is a third person in the room—such is the post-modern condition. The juxtaposition of modern-day technology and old-school furniture often is often seen in his paintings. It feels like a bridge of time and is reflective of Toor’s own artistic journey from the old masters of Europe to the contemporary now.

Two Friends
Oil on Panel
14 X 16 inches
2020
Two Friends Oil on Panel 14 X 16 inches 2020Salman Toor
Bedroom Boy
Oil on Panel 
12 x 16 inches 
2019
Bedroom Boy Oil on Panel 12 x 16 inches 2019 Salman Toor

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