MAGAZINE ACROSTEA TALENTS, ANTOINE GABER
OCTOBER 2006, Num. 2, Page 130-135 (English version of the interview below)
INTERVIEW WITH ANTOINE GABER
We landed at Toronto International Airport in the capital of the province of Ontario, Canada. Already from the plane at a very high altitude we could see this beautiful squared city bathing in a multitude of green areas. We sauntered along the streets of the capital, staring at the sights because this city never seems to rest…activities are going on constantly, guided tours of curious tourists stopping to browse, artists painting, taking advantage of the sun’s rays, improvised stages in a park…and what can we say about our first entry into the Eaton Center Shopping Complex! Hundreds of people leisurely strolling around, eating at all hours and looking at the store windows displaying the latest designer fashions. The great sociologists were right when they stated that Toronto is one of the most cosmopolitan cities on the planet. Our destination was not too difficult to locate, Café Royal. As we had agreed, we went up to the second floor to the well known Terrace Café of the Eaton Center, where we easily spotted Antoine Gaber. Punctual, elegant and affably welcoming, he invited us to join him to share his ideas, projects and knowledge.
Impressionist painter, oncology scientific researcher… How do you find time for such diverse occupations?
As time goes by I realize that the busier you become the more efficient you become. But the most important thing is to identify yourself with what you are doing, to feel passion for your work, because time is not important when you are doing something from the heart. So, when you feel passionate about something, for example, my passion for the fight against cancer and you have the opportunity to help your fellow-men, you get a surprising amount of energy that helps to continue fighting for what you truly believe in.
Egypt, your native land, has immense landscapes, monuments and motives to capture on canvas. Growing up in such a beautiful country may have been what moved you to start an artistic career?
Having been born in Egypt, probably influenced my artistic vision and appreciation for natural beauty, but the most important factor that conditioned my appreciation was to have been born into a family of intellectuals, artists, actors, writers, singers and painters; I must recognize that genetics has had more influence on my artistic expression and talent than my native country.
How would you define your artistic style?
I use the impressionist style as a medium to communicate better with the world. With my paintings I seek to trespass on the frontiers of the public’s attention, trying to place it on the visual threshold of an internal transformation. I would like my paintings to be capable of altering the inner state of the spectator, in the same way as in the legend of the Zen artist who painted a landscape on the walls of the prison and escaped from the bars by entering into himself. In the United States we allude to this type of art by using the term “healing art”, a concept that does not have a precise translation into Spanish, as it goes beyond art as therapy. This expression alludes to wellbeing that a sick person can experience when communicating through art.
The creation route that consciously takes over the healing function of art has been less traveled and a theoretical body of knowledge has not been sufficiently developed to explain it.
There are those who make certain comparisons between your paintings and those of Monet, Renoir or Van Gogh. What are your reactions to this statement? Does it make you proud or would you prefer to be recognized for your own style?
It is true that my artistic work has very frequently been compared to that of Monet, Renoir, and Van Gogh. This of course, is for me a great honor. To be compared with the great masters of impressionism is to me a gift from God. As a scientific researcher, dedicated to the development of new medications against cancer, I am well aware of human suffering, particularly pain caused by cells that destroy the bodily system. It is almost natural, in a parallel way to the pharmaceutical research that I undertake as a researcher to alleviate pain, and the fascination that impressionism has on me, that I use immense concentration of light and vital enthusiasm to paint places that can take the spectator to a different reality other than that of his sick body: spaces that remind him that somewhere in the world (and in him) exist complete peace and colors that execute the subtle dance of harmony. My work is intimately tied to reconnecting with the sacred. There is, in my paintings, a door towards that “other side” which only emerges from the poetic experience that brushes the rationally indemonstrable.
Are you trying to find through your work a mystic outing towards another dimension where pain or sickness does not exist?
I am trying, in the midst of chaos in a world constantly in motion, to create a threshold, a door before which it would be possible to feel hypnotized and to escape, not to get lost, but to find oneself. I cannot describe the experience of a sick person who cries when looking at my landscapes and by looking at them it is enough for him to believe in the possibility of healing and to feel in communion with the universe. The impressionist landscapes of Monet are, in some way, “found objects” that I use for a novel function tied to my mission: healing. “To free people is the soul of art”, said Beuys. To experience communion with beauty means to recuperate the lost unity.
Your paintings are characterized in particular by the assembly of scenic motifs, bucolic. Why nature and no other types of scenes?
When I penetrate into nature I get the impression that time stands still and that permits me to communicate with God and appreciate the beauty of the world around me. Nature is the ideal place to regenerate our soul and our body and it is the last place left of paradise. This is why my work as an artist is to try to recreate nature.
Where was your first important exhibition and how did it go?
My first important exhibition was in Nottingham, England, in September 1999. It was an solo exhibition during the International Breast Cancer Congress, held at the East Midland Conference Center of the University of Nottingham. It was the first time in my artistic career that 45 of my works traveled abroad. I imagine that this also makes this exhibition special for me.
What did you feel when you saw hundreds of people contemplating your work?
When I exhibited my work for the first time during the International Breast Cancer Congress with more than one thousand specialists from all over the world, all my colleagues thought I was joking when I told them that I had attended that Congress as an artist. It was a wonderful experience because from that day on all my colleagues saw me not only as a scientific researcher but also as an artist. I also had the honor of exhibiting my work in a private exposition for all the international speakers. Their acceptance and appreciation were for me a very special experience.
Your exhibitions have been shown in a number of countries… In which were your works better received?
This question is very difficult to answer because my work has always been very well received in all the places where it has been exhibited. Perhaps in some countries such as in England, Mexico and Italy I have been treated in a special way.
Two years ago you represented Canada at the Biennale Internazionale dell’Arte Contemporanea organized in Florence, one of the most prestigious European exhibitions. What were your reactions when you were told that you had been selected to exhibit your paintings there along with such renowned authors as Prince Charles of Wales or the famous actress Gina Lollobrigida?
For me it was an honor to have been invited to participate in the International Biennial of Contemporary Art, because I had the opportunity to meet many artists from all over the world and now they have become very good friends of mine. This exhibition also allowed me to meet and to become acquainted with very important art critics who in turn have opened doors for me at the international level. The Biennial was a wonderful experience that I would like to repeat every two years.
When you were young, you started a career in dramatic art which you left to dedicate yourself entirely to pharmaceutical research against cancer. Was it because it was something that you truly liked and appealed to you or was it due to family pressure?
Amongst my family members you can find famous artists, singers of pop music, writers… I suppose that I carry the artistic gene in my blood from birth. At 4 years of age I went on stage and continued acting until I was 15, when I wrote my first play and worked with it as director and actor along with 22 other actors. We presented this play on more than ten occasions in auditoriums to more than 700 spectators. I must say that my play was not “conventional”, God spoke and appeared but was represented by a woman. You can imagine the controversy that my play provoked at that time, but it made the spectators think about the different paradigms that we encounter in our lives. I very much wanted to be an actor, but my parents did not give me the necessary support because an actor’s career is very insecure. Later, in the seventies when I was already working at the scientific level, I met a famous producer, Sergio Leone, during the Montreal Film Festival. At the time he was looking for new faces for his film, “Once a upon a time in America”. Leone invited me to become part of his cast, which for me meant abandoning my career for a year to be able to film. I would have signed up without a second thought but my parents were totally opposed to it; they did not agree that I should abandon my research studies to participate in a movie, which upset me at the time, but later I understood that the only thing they wanted was for me to continue with my research work on cancer. Of course, throughout my life I have been fascinated with research and the arts, but I always think that I lost the opportunity to become an actor. Now I have succeeded in combining successfully the two facets, the arts as a painter and scientific research work.
In 2001 you created the Antoine Gaber Foundation for cancer research and the promotion of artists. What connection is there between research and painting?
The main objectives of the Antoine Gaber Foundation against cancer are to increase awareness of the disease in order to improve early diagnosis and prevention, raise funds for scientific research and for the promotion of artists around the world. A good example of this is the recent presentation of my charitable initiative “Passion for Life” in Florence (Italy) in favor of the Hemato-Oncology Unit at the Meyer Pediatric Hospital.
For long time, the mass media became an echo of your labor in cancer research. Are your continuing with your efforts to make society aware of this philanthropic work?
I have always received a great deal of support from the mass media in the fight to increase awareness of the disease and to raise funds for scientific research. My program has had great success worldwide and has had much exposure by the mass media thanks to my “history”: how a scientific cancer researcher can be a painter having won several international prizes with his paintings in exhibitions of great prestige, supporting and backing medical and artistic communities, and at the same time bringing a message of hope to the sick around the world. It moves me deeply to see the enormous support that I have received from the mass media and I believe that even if only one person has obtained information on the disease through one of the television programs or through my charitable activities and was able to obtain an early diagnosis for a person to beat the cancer, is for me a success for our society.
Many of your works have served as a social cause to raise funds for the Canadian Liver Foundation and the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research. Do you continue to collaborate with foundations of this medicine–social type?
For many years I have supported various important organizations that fight cancer, HIV and liver diseases, because all these diseases enter the field of scientific research. However, recently I have concentrated all my interest on cancer because this disease is becoming the main enemy of humanity.
Over the years, you have worked in scientific research against cancer and have contributed to the development of medications for this disease. Do you believe that medicine has advanced fast enough in relation to the appearance of new symptoms and diseases?
Over the years I have contributed to the scientific development of various medications against cancer. I am also proud to see that many cancer patients survive thanks to the efforts of these scientific researchers and colleagues around the world. In some cases for example, breast cancer, we have succeeded in increasing and improving the quality of life and survival of patients with cancer and transforming it into an almost chronic disease. We have made much progress in medical science as well as in developing new medications. But unfortunately, there is still much to learn and much research to undertake because many patients still die as a result of this terrible disease. Only through research, prevention and knowledge can we some day eradicate it.
What exactly is the program “Passion for Life” that you promote on a worldwide scale?
“Passion for Life” is a program that speaks about passion for people and for art and its transformation into a source of hope and help to others. The main objective of this program is to sensitize people about the disease and to increase awareness to favor early diagnosis and prevention. Another of the main objectives of this initiative is to raise funds for scientific cancer research. Funds are raised through the sale of my works and by purchasing signed items from my collection, (art cards, giclées copies of original art, art book, etc.) and from my new fashion line. We have recently made this program viable thanks to the support of various international artists who have joined this charitable program “Passion for Life”. Together we are fighting cancer and raising funds for scientific research and at the same time favoring prevention of this disease.
If you could ask for a wish knowing that it would be granted, what would it be?
I would ask for two things: to eliminate suffering from the world and to be able to convince governments in each country on the planet to cease fighting each other, so that every country would have an honest policy that would allow it to grow and develop its people.
After having traveled to so many Countries, which one would you chose?
Why choose only one country? I would like to live in all of them because they all have special people, wonderful landscapes and places. I am a friend of humanity and the entire world is my Country!
Your quote or favorite phrase:
My favorite quote is a prayer, the prayer of San Francis of Assisi, which is a very good guide for living in the world of today. It goes like this:
Take time to think; it is the source of power.
Take time to play, it is the secret of perpetual youth.
Take time to read; it is the foundation of wisdom.
Take time to pray; it is the greatest power on earth.
Take time to love and be loved; it is God’s greatest gift.
Take time to make friends; it is the road to happiness.
Take time to laugh; it is the music of the soul.
Take time to work; it is the price of success.
Take time to give; it is the key to paradise.
“I would like my paintings to be capable of altering the inner state of the spectator, in the same way as in the legend of the Zen artist who painted a landscape on the walls of the prison and escaped from the bars by entering into himself”.