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Painting of a boy drawing in a bedroom
Painting of a boy drawing in a bedroom

The Doodler, 2022 © Salman Toor, courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York. Photograph: Farzad Owrang

Last November, Four Friends by Salman Toor reached a new record for the artist at auction, selling for $1.5mn at Sotheby’s New York – far above an upper estimate of $400,000. The painting, which shows two men dancing in a New York apartment while two others sit looking on, sipping cocktails, has the elegance of a Watteau painting updated to 21st-century life. It’s one reason some have called the Pakistani-American artist’s work “Queer Rococo”. 

Four Friends was a highlight of Toor’s breakout 2020 exhibition at New York’s Whitney Museum, How Will I Know. He has since had institutional shows at the Baltimore Museum of Art and now at M Woods in Beijing, with the prices rising to match. Londoners will have seen his work in last year’s group show My Reflection of You at The Perimeter; next month they can see another in Close at Grimm (4 March to 6 April). “There’s something about the intimacy and sensitivity of Toor’s paintings that touches me,” says The Perimeter’s owner Alexander Petalas, who has several in his collection. It’s a sentiment echoed by the model Edie Campbell, an early collector of Toor’s work. “I find his work very moving… there’s a real crackle of energy to it.”

Much of this has to do with Toor’s reorienting his work toward the personal, celebrating the community he has made his own. Born in Lahore 40 years ago, the young Salman was a brilliant pupil and an excellent draughtsman, but he was also a self-described “sissy”, to the dismay of his conservative milieu. He went to Ohio Wesleyan in Delaware, Ohio, to study for a BA in Fine Art in 2002, before heading to New York, in 2006, to do a Masters, and for a while made a living as a painter of more classical, technically proficient paintings until he decided to start making work that spoke directly to and about him. It worked. 

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