By Amina Cain
I spent this past winter in a remote part of the Catskill Mountains in New York with my mother. She was dying and I was there to take care of her, to accompany her as far as I could in her transition to another realm. When I arrived, she was in good spirits, seemingly at peace with her coming death, and we were happy to have that time together. I welcomed the cold, a kind of winter I hadn’t experienced in 15 years. Snow blanketed the ground and the branches of the trees. The small, red cottage where we were living was cosy and cheerful, and I was taken with the stark and beautiful landscape that surrounded it.
But things were bound to get difficult. It’s hard enough to take care of someone you love who is dying, let alone to do it in a secluded place where you don’t know anyone. And though there was warmth inside that house, there was coldness too — quite literally on the night when the power went out for 13 and a half hours in temperatures of -24C.
During those months, I often found myself looking at the paintings of Salman Toor, especially at his scenes of merriment and relaxation in domestic spaces. I was craving the kind of warmth that comes from contact with other bodies, with lovers and close friends; the intimacy of dinner parties and after parties. As the weeks went by, my life and surroundings started to feel lonely and severe, and I began to wish I could live inside Toor’s paintings, within the beauty of their compositions, their blurred and dreamy surfaces, their colours — pinks and emerald greens and beiges — that appear to be lit from within.
I wanted the setting to resemble “Late Dinner” (main image, above), with figures huddled close together and yellow light emanating from the tall, slim candles burning brightly on the table. Or the double embrace of “Downtown Boys” and what looks like an anointment; the pale salmon colour of the T-shirt, the points of red. Or inside another season entirely, the spring or summer of “Thunderstorm”, where women sit on a porch drinking tea and a man gazes at the rain, at a figure who is out in it. The bonds between the people in this painting are harder to decipher, but there’s something comforting all the same in their gathering, in the blue of the house and the water, the lush greenery that brings a balminess to the scene.
It’s not that I was removed from life or that Toor’s paintings are removed from death, but he conjures a way of living inside a home that feels vital to me. I’m drawn to the sense of narrative suggestion in his paintings, the way the viewer sees one moment of a long night, or a glimpse of a relationship that is just starting or began years before; best friends, new lovers. In my fantasy home, the life lived within is just as important as the aesthetic, though admittedly it’s the aesthetics that first drew me to Toor’s work. His paintings remind me of what I need in a home: light and colour, pleasing compositions, openness, intimacy.
Amina Cain is the author of the novel 'Indelicacy' and 'A Horse at Night', both published by Daunt Books
Photography: © Salman Toor/courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York