Ismail Gulgee is a globally famous Pakistani artist who was born in Peshawar on 25 October 1926. He did not receive any formal education in painting, as he was a self-taught artist. For his initial education of civil engineering, he went to Aligarh University and later he headed off to US for the higher studies. He got admission in Columbia University and then Harvard University of United States. During his training as an engineer at Columbia University, he just for fun started to paint. After moving to Harvard University, he adopted his pastime as a hobby and showed keen interest for the painting. With the passage of time, he brushed up his art and painted some marvelous paintings.
After his higher studies, he came to Pakistan and as Secretary; he joined Pakistan’s Embassy in Ottawa. There he got ample of time to improve his art. Gulgee’s first exhibition was held in 1950. Later he adopted his hobby as a profession and became popular all over the world. He was requested by the Government of Afghanistan to paint King Zahir Shah’s portrait. Then Gulgee painted the whole royal family and in 1959, arranged an exhibition of 151 paintings at Kabul. This was a turning point for Gulgee who then created many other portraits of Karim Agha Khan, Queen Farah, Zhou Enlai and President Ayub Khan.
Until 1967, he focused on painting but then he started creating sculptures. Many glorious and out class figures of bronze, silver and gold were erected by him. In 1970 at Tokyo, he arranged the exhibition of verses of Quran that he painted. A huge and beautiful plat of star and crescent was created by the Gulgee for the Faisal Mosque of Islamabad.
He is known as an abstract artist. He was influenced by the action painting and was inspired by the Islamic calligraphy. He had a unique style of his painting may be because of the combination of Islamic calligraphy and action painting. Gulgee used quite large canvases as compared to other action painting and abstract artists. He was also known for using mixed media for his paintings as he used to use silver of gold leafs and glass mirror in his oil painting. Paintings of Gulgee were always bright and were full of colors.
He was awarded by the pride of Performance, Hilal-e-Imtiaz and Sitara-e-Imtiaz in the recognition of his work by the Government of Pakistan.
Gulgee was murdered along with his wife Zarin Gulgee and his maid. On the evening of 19 December 2007, they were found dead in their house. The bodies were bounded and were found in the separate rooms. After the official reports, it was said that they had been murdered for three days and their death date is 16 December 2007. Initial cause that was told was the suffocation but according to his son Amin Gulgee who as well is a renowned artist of the world, Gulgee’s car and driver are missing. He was buried in Karachi on 20 December 2007.