Abdul Jabbar Gull’s extensive exhibition at the Ejaz Gallery, Lahore, addresses and extends the range and development of a singular aesthetic philosophy. The presentation  includes  large  scaled,  carved  wood  forms,  wall  based  reliefs  and playful, freestanding pieces that outline the `thakti’design used as a surface for incised  and  carved  areas.  A  collection  of  paintings,  and  ink  and  wash  works articulate the diversity of the artist’s talent. To Gull, this landmark exhibition of his work, holds nostalgic connotation. It is his first solo event in Lahore, a city dear to him.  Here  he  spent  formative  years  at  the  National  College  of  Arts,  and  made decisions that were to affect his future. It is by way of taking the opportunity to acknowledge with high esteem, all the art mentors who influenced his life.

Since  his  first  solo  exhibition  in  Karachi  in  2000,  Gull  has  maintained  a commitment that has led him on an individual path, at times solitary but always fulfilling.  One  of  a  vanguard  of  young  sculptors  who  have  emerged  in  recent years  in  Pakistan,  he  is  making  inroads  in  this  neglected  discipline.  Without  a tradition to follow, the artist set his own standards disregarding the as yet, limited public awareness.

Gull grew up in Mirpukhas, Sindh where in his father’s workshop he explored the qualities of various types of wood, ran his fingers over the grain and felt the pulse within. There were no art activities as such available in his hometown but on the way  to  school  he  would  stop  to  watch  the  sign  painters  at  work.  Through  this simple interaction grew a desire to practice calligraphy and to draw portraits of his friends, and in doing so developed a strong commitment to art.

He obtained admission to the National College of Art, Lahore in 1990, where for two years he studied Design, including ceramics, photography and printmaking before finding his true vocation in sculpture. A further four years of study ensued before he completed his Bachelor Fine Arts Degree in Sculpture.  After graduating from NCA, for two years Gull taught sculpture in Lahore, worked on commissioned pieces and participated in group exhibitions in Islamabad and Lahore. In 1998 he settled in Karachi, closer to the family home in Mirpurkhas, and accepted an offer to join the faculty of  the  Indus  Valley  School of Art and Architecture, Karachi, where he teaches sculpture. His first solo exhibition was held in Karachi in 2000, and the tall, smooth forms carved from the wood of the Sheesham tree, heralded the debut of a formidable young sculptor. On that occasion he declared:

My work is a reflection of different moods  at  various  periods  of  my  life.  The  human  form  for  me  is  the  most important phenomenon of the universe. It is a major source of inspiration for me in all my work. Additive processes such as modeling, and subtractive processes like carving, behave in very different ways. I enjoy working in both mediums to disclose different forms.

In  2002  Gull  was  invited  to  join  a  three  month  residency  at  the  workshop  in Johannesburg known as the `Bag Factory’, a non-profit organization promoting visual arts through a broad range of activities. The extensive experience brought the sculptor from Pakistan in contact with artists from all strata of society as he carved new pieces, conducted workshops and shared ideas with other artists.

Searching  for  wood  Gull  found  a  park  where  cut  trees  were  dumped  and discovered suitable tree trunks, which he had moved to his studio. From these he created  two  new  pieces:  `The  Angel’  and  `Reconciliation’,  which  compromised three separate forms. Working on Angel, Gull smoked the body leaving the wings the natural, off white, colour of the wood. Smaller pieces were carved using three tones of the same wood to give a different `feel’ to the material and form.  The project culminated in a well-received exhibition, `Similar Diversities’, in which Abdul Jabbar Gull, Robert Botembe, a painter from the Congo, and photographer Aage Langhelle from Norway, combined their work in a three-artist exhibition. It was  an  occasion  declared  by  David  Kolone,  Director  of  the  Bag  Factory:

The best of resident’s exhibitions they had so far had.

Reviewing  his  work  in  exhibition,  art  writer  Ashley  Johnson  noted:

Gull’s  work hints at a mystery within. He is a sculptor working principally in wood. His main source   of   inspiration   is   the   human   form   but   the   mode   of   expression   is muted…There is a sense of striving within the form to communicate. This tension has a powerful effect on the viewer.

Gull states that the experience of Africa had changed his outlook and view of life.

In  April  2003,  a  second  solo  exhibition  of  the  sculptor’s  work  was  shown  in Karachi.  Carved,  freestanding  figures  measuring  18  inches  were  grouped  into three circles surrounding symbolic objects. Similar forms stood in lines behind a single  leader.  Questions  arose:  Are  they  anonymous  figures  waiting  to  be judged?  Or  are  they  the  judges  waiting  on  us?  Each  solution  seemed  to  raise further  questions.  The  forms  were  subtle,  suggestive  rather  than  realistically described,  distortions  evoking  the  power  of  the  human  body  and  reverberating with underlying energy.

Carves  directly  from  the  wood,  Gull  groups  together  forms  that  are  starkly distinctive,  endowing  the  individual  pieces  with  an  extraordinary  sense  of  the organic  contexture  of  the  figure.  In  the  purity  of  subtle  curves  the  columnar structures  are  individualized  by  the  slight  tilt  of  a  head  that  carries  the  barest suggestion  of  facial  features.  The  sculptor’s  individual  style  leans  towards abstraction   without   losing   the   figurative   representation.   The   metaphysical significance of remote times acts as the artist’s base in which he adapts to an era that sees as one with a growing alienation from nature.

Working with larger carvings standing over five feet high, Gull is consistent in his preoccupation  with  systematic  proportions. What  he  achieves  are  strong,  three dimensional forms that transcend matter in the serenity of prayer and meditation. Hands, facing outward pertain on one level to age-old ritual and at the same time appear to shield the forms. The subtlety of the grain of the wood appears as the lines  of  the  palm  of  one  hand,  maintaining  the  characteristic  refinement  of  the artist’s style.  In  May  2003,  Abdul;  Jabber  Gull  received  an  Award  of  Excellence  from  the
Pakistan  National  Council  of  the  Arts  at  the  8th  National  Visual  Arts  Exhibition held in Lahore. In 2004 a multi media, third solo exhibition: ‘Ordinary Souls’ made an impact on Karachi art enthusiasts.

Viewing  the  work  in  exhibition,  there  is  much  to  hold  the  interest.  The  artist  is adamant  that  he  is  essentially  a  sculptor  and  the  work  in  oils  on  canvas,  he considers an aesthetic diversion, a deeply inquiring exploration of his own inner thoughts  and  feelings.  Sketching  a  series  of  forms  intended  as  ideas  to  be carried  out  in  the  third  dimension,  Gull  translated  the  concept  into  a  series  of large canvases. A self-portrait crystallized his conviction that he is a prototype for everyman,    the    ordinary    soul    moulded    by    environment,    tradition    and circumstances.   The   painted   figures   at   first   glance   appear   to   deal   with male/female  representation  but  actually  mirror  the  twin  aspects  that  constitute every human being. The two sides that make us a whole.

Ink/wash  pieces  are  elegant  works  in  which  colour  creates  a  contemporary background to areas incorporating a simulated script. The ethos of sculpture is ever present in the use of form and light in the work and in woodcarvings that support theme of an anonymous majority whose destiny is linked to suffering.  The carved wall based works surpass rituals and evoke an overwhelming sense of the ultimate essence of gestural meaning. Both `Symbolist’ and `Realist’, in his spiritual quest the artist continues to search for truth, in others, in his surrounding and in his self.