At the School of Design in Khartoum, El-Salahi trained in Islamic calligraphy, architecture, textile printing, bookbinding and painting. Continuing his studies at the Slade, he immersed himself in traditional Western instruction, taking courses in life drawing, anatomy, art history and criticism.
A frequent visitor to Londons museums, El-Salahi found inspiration in the citys multi-cultural collections, from ancient Islamic manuscripts to Renaissance paintings and Impressionist canvases by artists such as Cézanne, Pissarro and Seurat, whose influences soon became visible in his work.
Towards the end of his time in London, El-Salahi adopted a more spontaneous painting style, working with inks and gouache rather than oil to produce a more free-flowing stroke, reminiscent of the fast mark-making seen in Abstract Expressionism and Arabic calligraphy.
The artists drawings from this period feature gaunt figures composed of delicate, swirling lines. Self-Portrait of Suffering 1961 is a ghostly representation of El-Salahi and reflects a wild emptiness. He describes the subjects in works of this period as looking at and through me, as if trying to remind me, through their perfect silence, of what I had failed to see.