A writer of stories and iconic poems, a painter of visuals and comics, a master of sonics and tunes: Hussein Bicar’s sole mission was to create and conjure. Here was an Egyptian artist who truly articulated what the soul sought, whatever the medium.
In the words of the late journalist Mustafa Amin, “he is not a single artist, he is a master of several arts. He is a painter, a photographer, a poet, a musician, and a philosopher.”
Born in Alexandria, Bicar was a child prodigy. From the ripe age of eight years old, he learned to play the lute, and by nine, started giving lute lessons to women in Alexandria whose culture did not permit casual engagement with adult men.
Music was Bicar’s first love, and after his graduation from Cairo’s School of Fine Arts in 1934, he spent more than 60 years devoting his life to teaching art at schools and universities.
A painter and a portraitist, Bicar’s paintings were a brilliant mixture between clarity of expression and depth of understanding – somewhere between modernism and traditionalism. In his senior year of college, he studied alongside Ahmad Sabri, popularly known as the best portaist in Egypt, who later became his mentor and life long friend.
Bicar’s paintings are characterized by simplicity and tenderness, with delicate lines that convey the spirituality and forcefulness that often appeared in his versatile work.
From watercolors, to oil paintings and tempras, Bicar’s paintings were mainly inspired by Egyptian heritage. The stylized figures in his artwork represented the mobility, strength, and stability characteristic of his countryside, Nubia, Upper Egypt, alongside traditional peasant women paintings.
He married art with his philosophical orientations by making the subjects of his portraits glow in order to exude their personalities.
With a knack for journalism, writing, and illustration, Bicar is credited with developing a unique style of journalistic art that elevated the standard of newspaper illustration at the time.
In 1944, he drew a set of illustrations for Taha Hussein’s book Al Ayam, (The Stream of Days, 1929), which was the first illustrated book published in Egypt. Shortly after, the Egyptian columnist Mustafa Amin asked him to devote himself to Akhbar-Al Youm (Today’s News) newspaper as one of its painters and writers. Through this position, Bicar wrote hundreds of critical articles and completed an array of journalistic illustrations.
Bicar was a considered true pioneer:he was the first Egyptian artist to illustrate Arabic children’s books. He also became the founding illustrator for Sindibad, (Sinbad) the first Arabic-language children’s magazine launched in 1952.
Although Bicar was subjected to a lot of criticism due to his Baha’i faith, it never affected his artistry or his work.
Baha’i faith is an independent world religion, centered around foundations of peace and unity for humankind through the central tenets such as equality between men and women, the abolishment of extreme wealth and poverty, universal education, and many more principles.
Baha’is are generally discriminated against in Egypt, they have been harassed, vilified, and imprisoned because of their different belief system. Although the number of Baha’is in Egypt vary widely, it ranges from several hundred to more than five thousand.
“The announcement in the media about Bicar’s religion may have caused a shock, but it passed like a meteor and vanished because Hussein Bicar had human values and an overwhelming presence in the conscience of artists and intellectuals,” explained Ahmed Nawar, a plastic artist and a close friend of Bicar.
A gifted man and an honest artist, Hussein Bicar’s contribution to the arts transcends scale. He was receptive to change and eager to develop his techniques, mastering all kinds of art in the process. Thus, his uniqueness was evident, and he remains an icon as a teacher of countless generations.