Gulgee was born on 25 October 1926 at Karimpura locality in Peshawar, Pakistan. Initially, he went to Lawrence College Murree and then to Aligarh University to study civil engineering before heading off to US for continuing his higher education. Gulgee started to paint while acquiring his training as an engineer in the United States at Columbia University and then Harvard. His first exhibition was in 1950.
Gulgee was a gifted and consummately skilled naturalistic portrait painter. He was perhaps best known worldwide for his abstract work, which was inspired by Islamic calligraphy and was also influenced by the “action painting” movement of the 1950s and 1960s. As with the works of other action painters or abstract expressionists, Gulgee’s canvases were often quite large. He was also known for using materials such as mirror glass and gold or silver leaf in his oil paintings, so that they were in fact mixed media pieces.
Beginning in the 1960s, Gulgee also created sculptures, including bronze pieces that were (like so many of his paintings) calligraphic in form and inspiration, and sometimes specifically based on verses from the Quran.
Guljee, 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. Guljee received many awards from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Japan and France.
Gulgee’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 Gulgee has been built in Clifton, Karachi near South City Hospital and Sea View Karachi.
Gulgee, his wife Zarrin Gulgee and a maid were found dead in their house on the evening of 19 December 2007 by his servants. 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. Their bodies were found bound and gagged in separate rooms of the house. The initial cause of death for all three has been attributed to suffocation. Gulgee was buried on the evening of 20 December 2007, in Karachi.