The Pakistani American painter was inspired by Renaissance art, but his work took a powerful turn after he began to experiment with images of his friends.
Three weeks before Salman Toor’s “No Ordinary Love” opened at the Baltimore Museum of Art, on May 22nd, the twenty-six paintings in the exhibition were still in his Brooklyn studio, and the largest work, “Fag Puddle with Candle, Shoe and Flag,” rested against a pillar near the center of the room. Ninety-three inches high by ninety inches wide, it is the same size, Toor told me, as Anthony van Dyck’s “Rinaldo and Armida,” a Baroque painting that is in the museum’s permanent collection. Toor had been obsessed with this picture when he was an art student. He had painted “Fag Puddle” with the idea that it would be “in conversation” with “Rinaldo and Armida,” and, while his show is on view elsewhere at the museum, the two paintings will be facing each other on opposite walls of the same Old Master gallery.
“ ‘Rinaldo and Armida’ is based on a poem by Tasso, about the adventures of Christian soldiers in the Crusades,” Toor explained. It was typical of the Baroque, he added, full of bodies and tumult and weather conditions—“a storm coming, the sunset, a mermaid, and the spellbound kiss that’s about to happen between the sleeping soldier and Armida, an enchantress descending to seduce this guy and take him to an island of love where he’ll forget his duties as a crusader.” Toor’s painting, as he describes it, is “a pile of laundry filled with things from different parts of my imagination, things that, to me, sum up an exhaustive heap of greed and lust. I also wanted it to have a slightly dark humor.” “Fag Puddle” is predominantly green, with vivid details in yellow and red. Figurative but not realistic, it shows, in addition to the items in the title, a feather boa, an open book, a dildo, a disembodied foot, a head with a clown nose, a striped necktie, a hanging light bulb, a pearl necklace, a light-emitting iPhone on a tripod, and a man’s head face down in the groin of a nude, upside-down male figure. These unrelated images are painted with such panache and fluency that they seem to belong together. My immediate reaction was that this artist could paint anything and make me believe in it.
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