Ismail Gulgee was yet another award winning globally famous Pakistani artist. Ismail Gulgee was born in Peshawar on October 25, 1926. His father and grandfather had moved there from Attock, while his mother was from Hazara.Gulgee’s father studied at the Muslim College Peshawar. He was an engineer employed with the government and Gulgee traveled with him a lot. His grandfather was a Sunday painter. Gulgee first studied at Peshawar Convent School and then went to finish high school studies in Lawrence College situated in the Himalaya Mountains in a place called Ghora Galli near the British hill station called Murree. From the very childhood, Gulgee wanted to paint while his parents wanted him to be sent abroad and become an engineer. He became both, though, but he is known for his childhood aspirations and dreams – a renowned painter. But that was long after when he succumbed to his family pressure and went to Aligarh University and then won the scholarship for postgraduate studies at Columbia University. There in the US, beside studying, he became his own self-taught artist in abstract painting.
His first exhibition was in 1950. His paintings are bright and full of color, but the paint is put on with greater sensitivity and paintings vibrate with intense feeling. Areas sing with luxminous thin color, thick blobs of paint pulsate with fiber-glass tears, the brush swirls strong and free. The total effect is very gray, yet considered and well thought out. They work enormously well, because it is all orchestrated with great care and concentration. He painted the entire Afghan Royal Family. He had his own style and he too has attempted calligraphy and other fields. However, he was famous for his life size portraits. His best known subjects included Presidents Jimmy Carter and George Herbert Walker Bush, the Shah of Iran, King Hussein of Jordan, King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, and Pakistani leaders Zulifqar Ali Bhutto and Field Marshal Ayub Khan.
Art critic Eric Gibson once remarked, Mr Gulgee began as a portraitist, moving into his colour abstractions only in the past 20 years. These paintings are by far his most interesting. In them, the artist is attempting to fuse two traditions: Islamic calligraphy, in which writing both carries a religious text and decorates a page, and the Western style of Abstract Expressionism, with its movemented brushstrokes. These paintings combine the two traditions with grace and elegance, and at the same time manage to transcend them. The paintings stand as more than the sum of their sources”.
My biggest wish was that in my country, a time would come when people start having respect for artists. That hasnat happened. Artists are so vulnerable. Their profession is so difficult. Zindagi, rozi kamane ke liye kitna mushkil hae [Life, its tough to earn a living]. How much they sacrifice to be an artist. Except for respect, there is nothing else they can get.â And as he feared, this great painter along with his wife were murdered in his residence in December 2007
For his great contribution to the progress of art in Pakistan, he was awarded with Pride of Performance, Sitara-e-Imtiaz (twice) and Hilal-e-Imtiaz. Guljee’s exhibitions have mostly been available to few people. Keeping that in mind and high demand from public and lovers of his works, an art gallery for Guljee has been built in Clifton, Karachi near South City Hospital and Sea View Karachi. Guljee mostly painted for his own inspirations and vision.