Salahov is one of Azerbaijan's most famous living artists. He studied at the Surikov Art Institute in Moscow between 1951 and 1957. He subsequently became a major proponent of what became known as the 'Severe Style'.
Salahov's father had been executed during one of Stalin's 'Purges'. Following Stalin's death in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev made the so-called 'Secret Speech' which condemned and reversed many of the repressive Stalinist policies. This political shift came to be known as 'The Thaw' and the 'Severe' style of painting emerged concurrently with this. Salahov is one of the leading exponents of the 'Severe Style' and, together with artists such as Nikolai Andronov, Geli Korzhev, Igor Obrosov and Viktor Popkov, they changed the direction of 20th-century Russian art.
The 'Severe Style' combines depictions of heroic toil with a sense of self knowledge and perspective. These artists chose to reject the spuriously heroic subject matter of Socialist Realism and injected their art with a greater degree of self-knowledge, humanity and awareness.
They drew their subjects from the grim realities of daily life in post-war Russia but often included a powerful sense of colourism. In likelihood, this was drawn from exposure to the works of the Impressionists, the Post- Impressionists, Matisse and the boundless creativity of Picasso, all of whom had received exhibitions in Russia during the Thaw.
Today Salahov lives in Moscow, where he is a professor and has a studio at the Moscow Art Institute. He has received numerous honors, including People's Artist of USSR, Russia and Azerbaijan, Hero of Socialist Labour, USSR State Prize (1968), First Secretary of the Union of Artists of the USSR (1973–1992), Vice-President of the Russian Academy of Arts, member of over 20 academies and other creative organizations throughout the world, including academies of art of France, Spain, Germany, Austria, etc.
In 2013 President of Azerbaijan, Illham Aliyev, established the foundation of the house-museum of Tahir Salahov in Baku.