Salman Toor’s acclaimed solo show at the prestigious Whitney Museum this year propelled him into the ranks of art stardom. And yet, his innovative approach to figurative painting remained quite discrete until 2018, when two Whitney curators first approached him to organize the exhibition. From then on, the Western art world started noticing the Pakistani-born artist, who soon became one of the most sought-after new emerging talents. Contrary to many young speculative artists currently reigning on the market, Toor boasts a remarkable institutional backing — he signed with prestigious Luhring Augustine gallery in New York a few months before the Whitney show. In part, this success can be attributed to the artist’s mastery of the classical technique which is used to depict gay communities in a new creative way.
Salman Toor was born in Lahore, Pakistan in 1983. In his own words, he « grew up an effeminate boy in a macho culture » which greatly impacted his future works. In Pakistan, he attended an international boarding school before moving to the United States in 2002 to study at Ohio Wesleyan University. He then settled in Brooklyn in 2019 where he obtained his Master of Fine Arts at the prestigious Pratt institute.
In New York, he spent his time studying old masters at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and learning about the history of art. « Art history became a way for me to understand and inhabit my life in the West. [...] I began to understand everything — from the history of Imperialism, to interior design, fashion, and technology — through the lens of art history. » And yet, it took almost ten years — from the late 2000s to 2017 — to reclaim this heritage and transform it into something deeply personal.
Prior to that, Toor’s approach to painting remained quite classical. Indeed, most of his early pieces represented scenes drawn from his own upper-class background in Pakistan, with a very polished painting style inspired by 17th and 18th century masters such as Thomas Gainsborough and Peter Paul Rubens. His early canvases sold well in his native Pakistan and were included in prestigious Asian art events like the Kochi-Muziris Biennale in India in 2016.
However, it was not before 2017 that the artist’s came to a turning point in his career when he decided to combine his classical influences with the depiction of his life as an homosexual in East Village. Around the same period, he started usig an earthy-colored, green-dominated palette in his canvases to represent scenes with men partying, drinking and sharing moments of tenderness and intimacy. « I chose green for aesthetic reasons. There is something nocturnal about it, like night vision. It’s inviting and glamorous, but it has connotations of poisonous gases and potions. But most importantly, I like that it’s not a sentimental color » the artist says.
His iconic green paintings started drawing attention within the art world soon after the Whitney show announcement in 2018. The same year, he had his third New York solo gallery exhibition at Aicon gallery before participating in a group show at Perrotin’s premises in the Big Apple the following year. In 2020, he signed with Luhring Augustine ahead of the Whitney show and major institutions around the world such as M Woods (Beijing) and the Tate Modern (London) began acquiring his works.
Toor’s market really took off in the second half of 2020. The artist made his auction debut in October 2020 with a mid-sized early painting that was acquired for $180,000 at Phillips London. Two months later, he broke his record at Christie’s London with a large canvas which sold for a remarkable $822,000. It was closely followed by a few good results around $500,000 for smaller paintings.
The first few months of 2021 confirmed the market frenzy for the Pakistanese painters. Indeed, a small recent painting was acquired for $612,500 at Christie’s New York in March. However, it is important to note that no green painting has yet been presented at auction. The first one — one of Toor’s most iconic works — will be sold in Hong Kong in April 2021. It could easily break the artist’s auction record, thus bringing his market to new heights.