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Property Sold to Benefit CORE's Emergency Response to Floods in Pakistan

4 Guests

4 Guests
signed and dated 'Salman Toor 2019' (on the overlap)
oil on canvas
39 1/8 x 43 1/8 in. (99.4 x 109.5 cm.)
Painted in 2019.
Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York
Post lot text
This lot is being sold by a charitable organization with proceeds intended to benefit CORE, and a US taxpayer may be able to claim a deduction for any amount of the purchase price paid in excess of the mid-estimate.

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Isabella Lauria
Isabella Lauria Head of 21st Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

One of the most exciting emerging artists in the world of figurative painting, Salman Toor melds traditional styles with contemporary subjects to stunning effect. With a focus on the human form, his narrative tableaus convey a sense of mystery and intimacy. Steeped in the brooding light of many of Toor's works, 4 Guests is an exceptional example of the artist’s nuanced rendering of the figure in contemplation. Painted the year before his highly acclaimed breakthrough exhibition “How Will I Know” at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2020, the canvas focuses on figures drawn from his imagination, but inspired by his own personal experience. Recognized early on for his carefully re-imagined takes on Old Master works, in recent years Toor has repositioned himself as a chronicler of the queer community and the everyday lives of people he knows. Still present, however, is the careful attention to light and shadow, its magical qualities gleaned from countless hours studying Dutch painters like Johannes Vermeer. As a student, during a period that was dominated by abstract painting, Toor embraced the human form and has continued to craft his unique style and approach to the subject.

On a brushy green background, Toor depicts four figures. Rendered in the artist’s stylized realism, three stand and one sits. On the left, both men cast their eyes downward with heads hung. On the right, the standing figure rests his hands on the seated man as they both stare with half-lidded eyes toward something off-canvas. As is typical of Toor’s characters, their features and bodies are often slightly elongated, and simple lines accentuate folds, wrinkles, and scuffs in their loosely draped garments. The painting captures Toor's use of fashion to both signify a mood as well as drive a suggested narrative. Toor's signature palette of green is imbued throughout the composition, saturated in men's clothing and echoed in the verdant backdrop. The monochromatic atmosphere has roots in an early reading of Norman Mailer’s “Portrait of Picasso as a Young Man” when Toor was still in school. “That book brought a sense of deliciousness, a simplified idea of what an artist’s life was like,” the artist noted (S. Toor, quoted in C. Tomkins, “How Salman Toor Left the Old Masters Behind”, The New Yorker, August 1, 2022). As Toor began to paint scenes from everyday life a shift in his color palette also crept into his canvases, much like Picasso’s "Blue Period."

When he first began studying art, Toor was enraptured with the works of Renaissance and Baroque painters such as Caravaggio, Peter Paul Rubens, and Anthony van Dyck. He took inspiration from their approach to modeling with rich color and dramatic light, a lesson that still informs much of his present work. “The floridness and vividness of their styles appeals to me,” he noted. “The overcrowded Baroque compositions of Rubens, the dignity of the subjects in Van Dyck, the lushness of romance and sensuality in Watteau, the decorative brilliance of Veronese. It is a pre-industrial way of looking, a foreign language of picture making” (S. Toor quoted in J. Alvares, “In Conversation with Salman Toor”, ArtNow, October 2017). As his work developed, Toor has turned away from direct reference to these artists, having instead fully coalesced their teachings and characteristics into a style distinctly his own. Armed with a deep knowledge, Toor weaves classical references into his work while also updating traditional subject matter.

Combining his interest in Western artistic styles with those of his native Pakistan, Toor paints perceived outsiders with the visual language of those in power. Hinging upon his intimate representations of communities separate from the straight, white hegemony, the artist tells his own story and the stories of those he loves with vivacity and a gentle touch in equal measure. “I like for the characters in my painting to move between vulnerability and empowerment,” he notes. “I like 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 bodies in painting” (S. Toor, quoted in N. Gupta, “Pakistani-origin, New York-based artist Salman Toor wants to paint a world where the East and West harmonise”, GQ India, March 12, 2020). A global citizen himself, Toor depicts hybrid existences in a world of increasingly smaller size.

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