Canvas Art Gallery

Salman Toor

Artist Statement

Canvas gallery is proud to present a new series of paintings by artist, Salman Toor whose subjects range from allegorical reiteration of commercial imagery, Art History to autobiographical constructs.

The paintings present a series of empty servant's rooms ('quarters' or 'quvaaters') from urban households coupled with gatherings of liberal revelry. These engaging and refined paintings explore the complex and often overlooked relationships between servitude, class and pleasure. They combine the debate within Toor's work of the idea of desire and revulsion and create a twisted bridge between the seemingly worthless present and the apparently venerable past. What brings the works together ultimately, isn't an account of sorry servitude and the cushioned philandering of the wealthy but the surrender of both to the scrutiny of an aesthete.

With inspiration as diverse as western Old Masters of the 16th and 17th centuries, local advertisements and photojournalism, these paintings are a testament to Toor's incredible skill and the result of a complicated relationship with western art history, by which the artist has re-interpreted his own place in his native social fabric.

The flickering naked light bulb in Ramzaan's Room as it hums and presides with an almost holy light on the tumult of soiled and overused quilts, used shopping bags, is at once familiar and embarrassing in its gilded frame in a clean white gallery space. The musty stillness of the temporarily abandoned room is presented as the site of unknown stories, mainly reflected with in contemporary Pakistani fiction, and is tempered with moments of painterly finesse in the moldy walls and hanging salmon and blue kameezes.

Ramzaan's naked light bulb is a match, perhaps, for the soft lighting in the inebriated shenanigans of Halloween Party. The tired metaphor of the masquerade hangs somewhere between caricature, moral parable, and a celebration of the scenes of leisure that litter the history of western art as well as the South Asian picture tradition of manuscript illumination. At this gathering Frida Kahlo pines for the attention of her vampire friend as Jinnah listens in on the exchange. The fawn, dancing with a lady-pirate cackles and gasps in recognition as the sad clown grinds, clutching his smartphone.

The surreal subtext of the Halloween Party is echoed in the black nothingness outside Ali's Room, where the pillow is soiled with overuse and the grime and poetry of fabric conspire to elevate this subject above the compassionate sentimentality of poverty.

An attractive maid, holding the props of her position, pauses to contemplate her young master's vulnerable repose freely. The news plays out on an old television set as a mascot of the ominous shifts in the world beyond while the roses on the steel tray in the foreground show no signs of wilting.

The steel tray reappears in The Bartender in a sensual twist between a crowded baroque sensibility and photographs in a society magazine. Two well dressed guests have a mysterious exchange with the acne ridden server behind the bar.

Toor's realism is selective, as can be seen in the fantastical luminosity of the colors and stylized anatomy of the figures while visual clichés provide a running commentary on the absurd social subtexts of the scene. The composition and type-cast figures are culled from the ubiquitous advertisements for beauty products and bedding.

Toor lives and works between his native Lahore and New York City.


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