Hussein Bicar

Hussein Amin Bicar (1913 in Alexandria – November 2002 in Cairo) is one of Egypt’s most prominent artists of the 20th century.

From the time of his childhood in Alexandria, Bicar seemed destined to be an artist. he could play the lute at the age of eight and by nine, he was in demand as a music teacher for society ladies who due to cultural restrictions could not use adult male teachers.

Since graduating from the Cairo higher school of fine arts in 1934, he has spent more than 60 years of his life teaching art at schools and universities. In his senior year, Bicar was able to study with the best portrait artist in Egypt at that time, Ahmad Sabry, who became his mentor and lifelong friend. In 1939, Bicar was selected as a member of a team of teachers who went to Morocco to teach at the invitation of the Moroccan government. In 1943, after his return to Egypt, he was appointed assistant to his former professor, Ahmed Sabry, Bicar spent the next 17 years there where he went on to become the chair of the painting department where he taught the majority of a generation of contemporary Egyptian artists. His inclination to draw on Egyptian heritage for subject was inspirational for many of these students.

Through the press, he is credited for initiating a style of journalistic art that elevated illustrating for news papers to a level close to that of the fine art. Bicar’s journalistic contributions go beyond illustrations to include art criticism and narrative poetry. Being the first Egyptian artist to illustrate Arabic children’s books, Bicar has played a major role in establishing and promoting this field.

As a painter, Bicar’s work is characterized by pure and simple lines which convey elements of forcefulness and spirituality. His versatility appears again and again as he works in a variety of media including water color, oils, and tempera — but the result is a distinctive Bicar style.

His subject matter is Egyptian. Unlike classical Greek or Roman art, which may be described as basically physical, the essence of Egyptian art is spiritual. The stylized figures in his paintings carry a poetic message representing the stability, nobility, and strength to be found in the character of Egypt’s agrarian roots. His sparse, minimalistic lines often impose a sculptured quality on his figures in their austere settings.

This philosophical orientation towards expressing the spirituality of subjects is also apparent in Bicar’s portraits. His subjects seem to glow and exude their personalities. Since his college days, Bicar has continued to be an outstanding portrait artist.

A gentle, modest, and extremely gifted man, Hussein Bicar’s contribution to the arts of Egypt is beyond measure. After more than half a century as an artist and critic, he continued to be eclectic in his tastes, receptive to change, and eager to understand all schools of art as they reflect world conditions. Elegant in his simplicity, Bicar explained, “To understand is to appreciate”.

In the words of late journalist Mustafa Amin:”He is not a single artist, he is a master of several arts. He is a painter, photographer, poet, musician and philosopher”. (Sobhy Sharon, Bicar, 2002)

He was of Turkish extraction and a member of the Bahá’í faith.