Cancer research – and art
by BARB RAYNER
ST. ANDREWS -In a unique combination of his talents Antoine Gaber has married his professional career in cancer research with his artistic expression. He was born in Cairo into a family with a rich family tradition in the performance arts. His mother’s cousin is film star Omar Sharif while his own cousin Manual Tadros is a popular singer and actor in Quebec whose son Xavier Tadros is also an actor. In fact, Gaber himself had the opportunity to make a career in acting but gave into the pressure for a more stable career so for the next 20 years he devoted his energies to pharmaceutical cancer research primarily with breast cancer therapies.
He played a role in developing the newest breast cancer drug called Arimidex while working at AstraZeneca, the country’s leading cancer research facility. The drug promises breast cancer victims fewer side effects from treatment. However while working as cancer research scientist Gaber, had become interested in photography when he was only eight years old, continued to pursue his love of the arts.
During the eighties he owned a professional photography studio in Montreal and exhibited works as a photo artist. It was only seven years ago on the eve of his birthday that Gaber, 44, began painting after purchasing a canvas and some oils. His first paintings were copies of masterpieces reproducing works by Degas, Monet and Hooper. He said he is self-taught having taken no lessons at all.
“My work is mostly Impressionist. I used to paint for myself when I started then people wanted to buy my paintings. When I realized how many I was producing I decided to sell some. With today’ s communications you get to be known so quickly. A lot of my paintings have been sold in England, in Germany and across the US as well as across Canada.
“I never realized it would become a second career. My second painting became a hit,” he said referring to the painting Breaking New Ground in Cancer which was used on the program for the 5th specialist work- shop preceding the 6th Nottingham International Breast Cancer Meeting held in September 1999.
During the four-day conference in the UK, which was attended by over 1100 top cancer specialists from around the world, Gaber showcased an array of his work. Another painting by Gaber, his interpretation of Tamara de Lempica’ s The Model, was used as the poster to launch the Arimidex breast cancer drug. It shows a woman with her hand over her face and, he said, represents the shame and stigma of breast cancer.
Last January he exhibited a series of his work during the Prestigious Interior Design Show held at the Toronto Convention Center. Later that year in April his art was also featured on The Toronto Artist Home and Style Studio Tour as an art community fund raiser event to benefit HIV /AIDS related causes.
Gaber wondered how he could combine his work in cancer research with his artistic talents and is now in the process of setting up the Antoine Gaber Cancer Research Foundation. This is a national organization committed to eradicating cancer and improving the quality of life of cancer patients by advancing cancer research through the funding of ethical clinical trials.
“I have developed in my lifetime eight cancer drugs which today a lot of patients are using to improve their quality of life and survival. It is very rewarding but there are so many new projects in cancer research, which cannot be funded. “I thought, what can we do to get more funding on a continuous basis for some of these projects? How can I use my art to combine the two things I like to do? By using the imagery from my paintings. They are going to be owned by the foundation. The mission of the foundation is to get funding for clinical research, to advance science and improve things for cancer patients. So much more could be done if we had the funding.”
Most of the people on the executive committee of the foundation are medical oncologists, he said, and although it will be based in Toronto he would like to try to expand into the US. Images from his paintings will appear on cards, coffee mugs, and coasters even screen savers and the proceeds from these sales will go to the foundation. He also plans to do some limited editions as well as other items to provide a continuous income for the foundation.
“I am starting with my own art. There are two purposes to the foundation. The main one is to get funding for research and the second one is to promote other artists. There are a lot of very good artists out there and, unfortunately, they don’t have a chance to show their work. I think it is two good causes -cancer research and promoting artists.”
Gaber was in St. Andrews Monday where he was doing some photography in preparation for a series of different tableaux he is planning to do of the Maritimes. He will be in the Maritimes both this month and next month and after that will visit other parts of the country. He has already painted in the UK, France, Brazil and Germany. Down the road he said he may even produce an art book.
The relationship between his cancer research work and his painting, said Gaber, is his passion for life. “It is my passion for nature and the beauty of nature and my passion for people and making sure they have a good life and qualify of life..”
He recalls patients who ask him if he can find something to cure them before they die and he hopes he can. He said his goal is making people feel better, live longer and hopefully finding a cure.
Gaber now has his own company, Oncology Management Services based in Toronto, and does consulting for other companies helping with such things as drug development strategies. When he has finished his work he said he goes home to paint and has, in fact, traveled around the world for his painting.
He has his own web site at www.antoinegaber.com