To see Salman’s paintings is to know him. I was blown away by his 2018 show at Aicon Gallery in NoHo, Manhattan, and immediately messaged him on Instagram. As we became friends — we bonded over how much we could nerd out about this or that Dutch master — the interest in queer figurative painting was growing; we were being put in the same shows, being written about in context with each other. The art world conversation converged with our friendship, expanding what we had in common. When I first visited his studio in Bushwick in 2019, I suggested we trade paintings. He gave me what I would come to see as a self-portrait: a naked man looking in the mirror, examining himself with his pants pulled down to his feet. His work deals with the everyday representation of queer life — whether it’s issues of politics, immigration, family and religion or going out to a bar or hanging out in your apartment dancing to Whitney Houston — allowing the viewer access to a more layered, complex idea of what it means to be queer. That’s his work’s real strength: how true it is to our experience. And from my studio, he chose a dick portrait I made.
The penis portrait, there’s so much tenderness in it. Doron’s work is about putting love into the sex act and bringing what was once considered dangerous or sordid into the language of high culture. It’s brave and direct, and I like the sense of energy. One of the things that attracted me to him was his flamboyant manner, which is much like mine. He’s warm, but very sassy. Usually my paintings don’t have a source, but in making his portrait I had a nice hard look at Doron reclining on my sofa and made two quick ink drawings of his face. The pose I decided to paint from memory, thinking of how his hand was resting on his cheek, his knuckles, the distance between his eyes.Doron is from Israel and I’m from Pakistan. I want to convey the shared experience of growing up as a queer boy in a community that may not welcome it. That’s an experience shared by so many people across so many cultures, and I hope that is somehow visible to anyone who looks.