Engineer and Artist
Born: October 25th, 1926
Died: December 16th, 2007
Ismail Gulgee was born in Peshawar, Pakistan. He completed his early education in Pakistan and for higher studies he went to United States, there he completed his Civil Engineering from Columbia University and Harvard University. During his studies he started painting for his soul satisfaction. Gulgee explains it like this: “My work is the externalization of my inner journey. Through it I communicate with the pulse of life. The calligraphic form and movement that emerge are not premeditated or cerebral; it is intuitive and articulates something deep inside me. It is important that no thought of how people will react to my work intrudes, as that would destroy the thread and take the truth away. I am enchanted by Islamic calligraphy and feel close to the Sufi mystics. At the mystic level barriers melt away and religious experiences, Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim, all becomes one. One could call it human experience of the ineffable. For me the medium of the unknown is space and the calligraphic choreography of my painting is the dance of the dervish. To me the act of painting is the making real of the essential Yogic experience of life as pure movement. I find it difficult to speak about my paintings because the act of putting together words only explains and cannot make real the experience, which, for me, is the only reality, the only value that gives meaning to my life. Therefore I will end this by adding that I live only when I paint. The rest is but a wait, a preparation mixed with prayer for crossing the threshold from life into the experience of life.” Gulgee being realistic and abstract in nature acquired totally a different meaning and entirely new sensitivity to the painting world. On his canvas the dynamic forces of creation and expression unite and energize a new being. At first he did all kinds of style of paintings. In the beginning his sketches were highly classical and very meticulous but after some time he drew when it came to him like a breeze.
As he was famously known, 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. He was also commissioned to paint the portraits of the Saudi Royal family, along with many figures of the Islamic world. His first exhibition held in 1950. In 1957 he was commissioned to paint the portrait of King Zahir Shah of Afghanistan, and in 1959 he held an exhibition of 151 paintings and sketches in Kabul. He also painted portraits of Prince Karim Aga Khan (1961), Zhou Enlai (1964), Queen Farah Diba of Iran (1965) and President Ayub Khan of Pakistan (1968). He then turned to making portraits from marble mosaic and semi-precious stones, a technique that he had developed in Kabul in 1959. His abstract paintings, produced since the 1960s, incorporate ornamental calligraphy, colored beads, small pieces of mirror, and gold and silver leaf. These works include a large abstract mural painted in 1965 for the British engineering firm Wates Ltd. of London. In 1967 he began to make calligraphic sculptures in bronze, based on verses of the Quran, which were first exhibited in Tokyo in 1970. He made a large crescent and star in copper plate for the Faisal Mosque in Islamabad in 1986, and produced calligraphy in stone inside the mosque.
Pride of performance
Other than these he achieved a number of other national and international awards, including Japan Foundation Award in 1979. In 1999 at a Sotheby’s auction of works of living artists his art fetched the highest price. That was a great honor.
Gulgee, his wife Zarrin Gulgee and a maid were found dead in their house on the evening of 19 December 2007 by his servants. Police suspect that all three had been murdered.While the bodies were found on the 19th,...
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