Seemingly fluttering wings predominate Abdul Jabbar Gull’s most recent collection of artworks at the Canvas Gallery, Karachi. There, a collection of work sculpted in metal: brass, aluminum and mild steel, is translated into an abstract thought process juxtaposed with down-to-earth symbols of actuality. The varied contrasts between form and the media offer an illusion of movement, a visual impression as of something happening out of the corner of one’s eye. Visitors to the gallery enter the exhibition through a tall edifice: ‘Gate of Blessings’ that seen from afar, takes on the aspect of a giant takhti clustered with seemingly whirring, light winged forms. The 6 feet by 8 feet structure stands on a ready-made base consisting of a metal plate suggesting something mechanical for workshop use. Unexpectedly, one’s attention is caught by a profusion of sturdy looking aluminum flowers and foliage. These are found objects, pieces with ‘pop’ connotations that aroused the sculptor’s interest when he visited the metal market.
When Marcel Duchamp invented the ‘ready made’ or ‘found object’ in 1917, it excited artists throughout the twentieth century. The ‘Found Object’ became a source and a significant element in art, challenging conventions on what is meaningful or significant. Gull’s expression is articulated by symbols of abstract ideas in close proximity to tokens of practical life. These may stem from his own experience as an artist who grew up with the accoutrements of the practical workshop. Explaining that he is inspired by the medium he works in, as a child he was often to be found in his father’s plant. It was a place where wood, metal objects and the tools that shape them, were used on a day-to-day basis. Gull has worked for a number of years in the medium of wood, a conviction strengthened when working with wood carvers in Africa. His recent work with metals he describes as, an enjoyable opportunity to explore the malleable qualities of the medium.
He began the work creating a sequence of small-scaled figures fashioned from mild steel. Each form possessed wings shaped as takhtis, symbols the artist uses to depict awareness or learning. From there the work developed and Gull’s imagination took wing along with the sculpture he created.
Among the exhibits displayed one finds a circular form composed of metal rods.
Approximately five feet in diameter, it is flocked with delicate winged forms; the gleam of the brass absorbing and reflecting light. Gull uses his materials deliberately, different factors representing the world as he knows it, and the hidden mysteries that men ponder on; metaphysics, fate and destiny. Among the exhibits is a cube, an object that holds a range of meanings for diverse cultures. Dreams, depicts flying forms entering a broad brass panel at will and dissolving in the process.
Elaborating on the subject explored is an assemblage of five tall panels of wood outlined with metal. They are inset with a series of writing boards that are filled with an unreadable script, gestures without meaning. These, the artist explains signify the record of each person’s destiny, a fate that is already decided but unrevealed. Gull invests commonplace objects, materials and people, with dignity and compassionate understanding. The humility discerned in the artist’s musing on fate, where, when and how it strikes, links mankind to early humankind, the ones who bowed their heads before the elements. The suggestion is that this phenomenon still exists, and is vulnerable in spite of illusions of impregnability. In his work Gull compares the temporal aspects, in the form of robust materials with man’s ability to shape them to his will, and delicate perceptions of the intellect translated into flying thoughts. The results appear as an open attempt to question the place of human beings in the universe, a personal and exploration of a spiritual and cultural journey that assimilates contemporary elements. In his work to date, forms are replicated in a style that is often gestural; a spontaneous quality that tempers and transcends the mechanics of a uniform finish.