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The Palm Reader III

The Palm Reader III
signed and dated 'Salman Toor 2019' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
18 x 22in. (45.7 x 55.9cm.)
Painted in 2019
O Art Space, Lahore.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Lahore, O Art Space, Salman Toor: New Paintings, 2019.
Special notice
This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

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Keith Gill
Keith Gill Head of Department

Lot Essay

Painted in 2019, The Palm Reader III is an intimately-observed example of Salman Toor’s celebrated figurative practice. From rich, tactile brushstrokes, rendered in a muted palette of ochre and dusky pink, two figures emerge, subtly illuminated by the rays of a lamp. Stars and flowers flicker outside the window to the right, while a tiny gecko scales the wall. In the dim, quiet glow of the room, an unheard fortune is told. One of several works on the subject, the painting takes its place within Toor’s growing pantheon of painterly chronicles, whose characters inhabit twilit, enigmatic worlds. Recently the subject of a major exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art—his first solo museum show—the artist draws heavily upon his own experience, depicting imaginary stories of queer Asian and American men. Influences from the art of his native Pakistan mingle with nods to the Old Masters, the Impressionists and other elements of the Western canon. Here, faint echoes of Caravaggio’s The Fortune Teller (circa 1596-97) dissolve into a scene of intimacy and suspense: like the artist himself, the palm reader delves into the past, and looks towards the future.

Born in Lahore in 1983, Toor moved to America to attend art school in Ohio, before later taking up residence in New York. The experience of relocation—specifically, the transition between feeling marginalised and feeling at home—feeds continuously into his paintings. ‘I attempt to think about my experience in Lahore and in New York City seamlessly’, he explains. ‘… For me, the in-between spaces are metaphorical/allegorical spaces of bureaucracy and suspicion. They can take on the feeling of an inner psychic space of some of the characters. They are certainly rooted in the diasporic experience and in the idea that you may not belong anywhere while thinking that you belong in multiple places. To present yourself on the cusp of another world is to be seen’ (S. Toor, quoted in ‘Blurring the Lines between Public and Private: Salman Toor Interviewed by Cassie Packard’, BOMB Magazine, 12 February 2021). The motif of the palm reader seems to speak directly to this sense of exposure: the interaction between the two figures is one of discovery and revelation, as the boundaries of the central character’s identity are drawn and redrawn.

This sense of conflicted belonging is also reflected in Toor’s influences. ‘I grew up looking at a mix of images from Indian and European art history’, he recalls: ‘images of Mughal princes and fakirs next to contemporary (and very badly painted) faux-folk paintings of pretty peasant women in tight tops and large nose rings carrying clay water jars on their heads, and cheap framed prints of Thomas Gainsborough’s or Peter Lely’s portraits of Mrs.-so-and-so. These images became part of my nostalgia for my childhood, but also a space of escape and fantasy during my years growing up’ (S. Toor, ibid.). During his time at art school, he absorbed the languages of Rubens, Bruegel, van Dyck, Manet, Dutch genre painting and eighteenth-century European portraiture, seeking out subtle expressions of power relations buried within their narratives. Fashion, too—as evidenced here—plays an important role in his paintings, blurring period and contemporary styling with nods to items of his own clothing. By conflating the past, the present and the personal in this way, Toor imagines a world free of boundaries, where identity is forever fluid.

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