Joseph Amar  (1954 - 2001) 

Joseph Amar was born in Casablanca, Morocco in 1954 to a Sephardic Jewish father and a Spanish mother before immigrating to Toronto, Canada in 1957. Although his family could not a_ord much, Amar was surrounded by the arts in his childhood. In 1974, he received the Dorothy Reid Scholarship to attend Ontario College of Art but later quit after only a few years to commit himself to his own studio and practice.

Amar was initially attracted to the progressive art movements of Europe, particularly Arte Povera, Dadaism, and the works of Spanish Abstract Expressionist, Antonio Tàpees. Although many of these movements were of di_erent cultures and times, Amar found their examination of medium and material compelling. Following collage traditions and Dadaist Marcel Duchamp’s “readymade” philosophy, Amar began to draw both inspiration and materials from the urban environment around him. His studio became a playground of items he found abandoned in his neighborhood, which he would adhere to his paintings using cement, wire, and fabric. In direct response to the intuitive nature of Abstract Expressionism, he considered his materials the guiding hand in his creative process.

After several successful gallery exhibitions in Toronto, Amar and his wife moved to Brooklyn, New York in 1979, although he would periodically return to Toronto to teach classes at the Ontario College of Art. In America, he became exposed to New York-based artists such as Willem de Kooning, Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollack, and Mark Rothko. His works in New York indicated a unique dialogue with Minimalism, a style dominating the art world in the 1960s and 1970s. Robert Rauschenberg’s “combine paintings” and Cy Twombly’s gestural brushstrokes were of particular interest and in_uence to the young Amar.

Finally, in 1981, Amar was included in an exhibition at the O.K. Harris Gallery and by 1985 he was represented by the Bess Cutler Gallery, the largest gallery in SoHo at the time. He was included along with other influential contemporary artists like Anish Kapoor and Peter Halley in the groundbreaking 1987 show, Similia/Dissimilia, organized by famed curator, Rainer Crone, in Dusseldorf, Germany. With Similia/Dissimilia’s success, the exhibition traveled to Columbia University, the Leo Castelli Gallery, and Sonnabend Galleries in New York, furthering Amar’s exposure. His work attracted such infamous figures as Elton John, Yoko Ono, and Bianca Jagger and is now in the permanent collections at the Guggenheim Museum and Carnegie Institute.

For the next four years, Amar continued to exhibit in New York as well as Atlanta, Boston, Baltimore, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Tragically in 1991, Amar and his family were in a fatal accident. His wife died instantly and his daughter later recovered, but Amar remained predominantly paralyzed from the neck down. He eventually gained some use of his right arm and learned to speak through a computer voice synthesizer, but he never painted again. In 2001, Amar finally succumbed to his injuries in Toronto.