Fleeting fictional anecdotes, bright with embellishment, thick with meaning and colored by the ghosts of memory, history and imagination may form the essence of storytelling. Delivered in heady bursts, a short story forms an intense experience where an entire reality is perceived within a condensed narrative. Similarly, Salman Toor’s latest body of work is turbulent with emotion. A variety of complex subjects are detected beneath the idyllic veneer, permeating the spirit of the work. Held at Canvas Gallery, ‘Short Stories’, Toor’s solo show, creates a vivid space, rich with connotations and subtexts.
Rustic countryside landscapes come into view, lush with jewel colored flora. Nostalgic scenes of spirited school children are witnessed. Delight may be experienced at the sumptuousness within the paintings, from the gleaming luxuriant cloths to the unspoiled pastoral scenes. At a closer glance however, scenes of violence are detected. Young school boys engage in conflict, goats are skinned and a child’s hair is mercilessly tugged upon. Perhaps the most perturbing aspect lies in the apathy that pervades the scenes. As aggression breaks out, the other characters remain indifferent, carrying on with their games without a care and indolently lazing on the ground. The sluggish lassitude, which suffuses the mood of the work, may perhaps highlight the despairingly futile way in which we respond to the violence within our sociopolitical reality.
Besides the series of romantically rendered paintings, the artist adds a number of strangely cut MDF panels scribbled with Urdu text. The panels imitate the spiky speech bubbles usually found in advertisements or comics, which exist to communicate punchy, dynamic messages. The action packed energy of the panel’s silhouette contradicts the languid energy of the other paintings. The juxtaposition of the contrasting aesthetic genres evoke a sense of whimsical playfulness and exaggeration. According to the artist, the panels represent effervescent declarations while the advertisements inspire the figures in his paintings.
The artist’s body of work was inspired by literature, such as the stories of Anton Chehkov and Daniyal Mueenuddin, and mingled with personal history and imagination. Despite elements of realism, the work contains a fantastical spirit, perhaps through the characters, who possess a significant fluidity, a fickle, musical rhythm that lends them an air of changeability. A few of the figures have been rendered in an ethereal palette, with dreamlike, glowing colors that may lend an otherworldly air, such as the pink and blue fellows in ‘Empty Plot’. On the other hand, others are dressed in worn, fuzzy colors that seem to wane into the background, such as the two characters in the distance in ‘Sleeping Maulvi’, ghostlike against the deep rose walls. Some are even translucent, like phantoms, within ‘Playground II’.
There is a strong sense of narrative in the background in Toor’s work. Conversations are mumbled in the distance, secret games are played and battles are fought over conflicts no one can fathom. The scenes possess an ephemeral quality, as if within a blink, the moment will have passed, the fluid expressions and postures will shift and conversations will be concluded.
Born in Lahore, in 1983, Toor studied Fine Art at Ohio Wesleyan University and pursued an MFA at the Pratt Institute in New York. The artist has taken part in several exhibitions locally and internationally, including the Kochi-Muziris Biennale and ‘Go Figure’ at Aicon Gallery in 2016.
The enchanting, dreamlike lull of ‘Short Stories’ creates a beguiling experience. The artwork is peppered with incidents that capture flawed human experiences, self indulgence and idle, sybaritic lives that provoke the audience to ponder and delve beneath the flowery surface.