Basharat Bashir

Ismail Gulgee: Featured Artist

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Born on 25 October 1926 at Karimpura locality in Peshawar, Pakistan, Gulgee went to Lawrence College Murree before entering Aligarh University in India for civil engineering. He continued his engineering studies at Columbia and Harvard University.  During his stay in the United States, he developed passion for painting and gradually began his journey as an artist.

Gulgee is considered as one of the finest contemporary Pakistani painter and sculptor known for both his representational portraits and calligraphic abstractions. His fascinating paintings of horses and astonishing portraits of people echoes his artistic skill and genius. In his abstract works Gulgee uses repetitive brush strokes to give a sense of movement to his work. His style in his abstract works tends to be inspired by Action Painting/ Abstract Expressionism with a unique combination of Islamic Calligraphy.

Gulgee held his first painting exhibition in 1950. He was a skilled naturalistic portrait painter who enjoyed state support and received plenty of elite commissions. Gulgee’s initial approach to his painting was more realistic and as a portraitist, Gulgee painted the entire Afghan Royal Family. It was during 1960s, that he turned to abstract painting. Although his reputation as a portrait painter was unparalleled  but It was more because of his amazing abstract paintings that gave him international fame.  Gulgee’s canvases were often quite large in the tradition of other action painters or abstract expressionists. Sometimes he used materials such as mirror glass and gold or silver leaf in his oil paintings. Therefore, in fact, they appeared to be mixed media pieces. Gulgee received many requests for his paintings internationally, from the Saudi royal family to the Islamabad presidency. Many of his works are placed in the Faisal Mosque in Islamabad.

In an unfortunate event on the evening of 19 December 2007  Gulgee, his wife Zarrin Gulgee and a maid were found dead by strangulation in their house. Police suspect that all three had been murdered. While the bodies were found on the 19th, officials report that they had apparently been deceased for three days, leading to a speculative death date of 16 December 2007. Gulgee was buried on the evening of 20 December 2007 in Karachi.

 According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art  “Gulgee’s calligraphy paintings are abstract and gestural interpretations of Arabic and Urdu letters. His sweeping layers of paint explore the formal qualities of oil paint while they make references to Islamic design elements.”

Gulgee received the Hilal-e-Imtiaz (Crescent of Excellence) Award in 1995 by the President of Pakistan followed by Pride of Performance Award in 1970 by the President of Pakistan and Sitara-e-Imtiaz (Star of Excellence) Award in 1982 by the Government of Pakistan.

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