Through painting, I try to conjure a world where people of color are equal and proud heirs to the humanist culture that hosts the freedoms that we enjoy in urban centers in the West.
From the intimate settings of dimly lit bedrooms to boisterous rooftop soirees, Salman Toor’s lushly painted scenes pay an artful homage to artists and centuries past, but with an ever-important and very contemporary caveat. The artist is quoted, “through painting, I try to conjure a world where people of color are equal and proud heirs to the humanist culture that hosts the freedoms that we enjoy in urban centers in the West.” The Singers, painted in 2019, captures a fleeting moment of human interaction, simple yet dynamic, and effortlessly soulful. A rich, earthy palette balanced by the crisp blue sky and sartorial splendor of pinks, oranges and greens, The Singer’s painterly surface is as captivating the story it tells. Perched closely together atop a brick wall, two figures are mid-song, nearly tree level and surrounded by the whirling blue sky. Below them, past the delicate pink roses, a group of three lean against that same wall, tethered to yet separate from the singers’ melody. There is a nonchalance to their position—a drink to casually sip, a hand rested on hip–it all feels unabashedly human.
Having grown up in Lahore, Pakistan prior to settling in the United States—first in Ohio and now in New York City’s East Village, there is a pointed nostalgia to Toor’s oeuvre that interpolates his unique and worldly perspective. Toor has said, “All my paintings are imagery, so when I’m painting there aren’t any sources in front of me…I am thinking of particular memories, people or moods as I’m painting; my subjects are made-up of people who I think are like me.” From memories of his upbringing as a queer youth in Lahore, to his rigorous studies of Baroque and Neo-Classical artists such as Peter Paul Rubens and Jean-Antoine Watteau, to the omnipresence of social media in both the private and public domain—Toor’s work lends a critical and necessary perspective on navigating the modern world through an intersectional lens. The Singers tasks the viewer with important questions to consider—who and where are these figures, and why haven’t we seen them represented in the canon prior?
The artist’s highly celebrated, first solo museum exhibition How Will I Know is running at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York until April 4, 2021.