My taste in art is the same as my dad, he was a minimalist and so am I: Amin Gulgee
You can tell from the first glance that it’s not your usual house. Located in Karachi’s Clifton area, the place, bears testimony to the fact that it houses an enigmatic artist. The architecture announces Amin Gulgee’s abode.
Bottles and matkas set against a mosaic background look down at you from the roof. One cannot help feel intimidated by the grandeur of the main door. It’s one big installation besides the many that you see both outside and inside the house.
“When I was getting this house built I wanted a place where I could live. I got this designed from Kishwer Rizvi but I did not enlist the help of an interior designer. I knew exactly what I wanted, a place I can be happy in. I collected material for my furniture from various places including a kabaria (junk collector). The furniture pieces that you see in my house are a mix of things. Some I have designed, while others I have collected over a period of time. A few pieces are from China and Damascus while others are antiques that I inherited from my parents,” shares Amin.
When asked how much influence the senior Gulgee has had on Amin he responds,
“My taste in art is the same as my dad. He was a minimalist and so am I.”
I also take after my mother. She, too, was artistic in her own way. Both enjoyed antique and contemporary fusion. I have grown up with their aesthetics. Even during their younger years, when my parents did not have enough money, they would dig up beautiful antique pieces.
Childhood for the artists was a golden period spent with his best friends which were books. “I was a complete nerd really and I loved reading. My idea of a good time on a weekend was to settle down with books of my choice. That was also my favorite pastime. Somewhat a loner, I was not much into friends. Sports did not get me going so even in school I was often found in the library reading books.”
As a child I certainly did not want to be an artist. My mother was averse to the idea as she said there wasn’t enough money in the field. They wanted my sister to become an artist while for me they thought banking was the best option. My sister became a banker and I an artist,” Amin smiles remembering the past.
After completing his studies from American School, Amin went to Yale and got his degree in Economics. “I attended my first Art History class and found it to be very interesting. For my thesis I worked on Shalimar Gardens and won a prize for it.”
The awakening of the artist within this genius was a gradual process that took its time. After spending some years in New York, Amin established himself as a jeweler designer. He started exhibiting his ware and also got involved in art shows. After a couple of years the designer within him awoke. He wanted to make bigger art work and so he returned to his country in the early ‘90s.
“Karachi was going through a turbulent phase at that point in time. My mother was quite upset at the fact that I, too, had taken up art as a career. She used to worry how I would make ends meet, how I would support a family on art alone. She used to say, ‘Beta I have lived all my life with an artist. Now I will have to live with two.”
But nothing could deter Amin. “I was in my twenties, I was young and exuberant just starting out in life and none of the stress factors affected me. During those days I used to have little money so I would take all my welding work to a workshop on Jamshed Road. I would be at the workshop from 12 midnight to 5 o’clock in the morning as that was the only time I had the place to myself. I would be doing all my welding and soldering work for my sculptures there. People around found the whole activity quite interesting and I would have this crowd who would often gather there wondering what I was up to,” he mirthfully reveals.
Amin learnt his craft on the streets of Karachi. It was a very different setting from the one in New York. Many a night he witnessed the comings and goings of heroin addicts, tramps and beggars while he was the odd one out.
“I got a stipend of Rs30,000 from my parents but I did not want to live off them. You have to understand that both my parents were self-made people and that’s how I had been brought up too. I knew that if I wanted to be an artist I had to pay the bills. So I started doing shows. I gave myself three years to make something of myself in the world of art, otherwise I would go back to Business or Law school,” he says matter-of-factly.
When asked who he took after – Mom or Dad, the instant reply was, Neither and both. I have a bit of both in me. My dad always saw the bigger picture while Mom was more practical and saw things as they were. They lived in a different sphere altogether. They were completely fascinated by one another – Gulgee and Zaro. Her name was Zareen but she hated being called that and Dad’s name was Abdul Mohammad Ismail but was known as Gulgee.
They were an energy force. I have never seen anyone so alive and young as them. The older they got the more they were interested in the present. They never dwelled on the past. If I wanted to have my own way I had to get them alone. Together they were absolutely unified, reminisces Amin.
Talking about his relationship with his parents, Amin says, “As a family we were very close. We could talk about anything and everything. There was no censorship. I would tell them everything. I vividly remember my days spent at the studio with Dad. That was our bonding time. Dad would be busy with his painting and he would say ‘Beta come let’s paint!’ and I would take up a brush and start making my own piece. And that’s also how I got my first taste of art.”
Amin continues reading books and working out, besides touring the world with his exhibitions. He is currently working on Karachi Biennale 2017 and is all geared up for that. It’s an ambitious project encompassing 80 Pakistani artists and 40 international ones with three guest curators. We are focusing on 11 unusual alternative venues. I am also taking my Chaar Bagh show to Venice,” signs off the enigmatic Amin Gulgee.
This article was originally published in GLAM Magazine (September Edition).