Over the years he drew a political cartoon strip called "White Rabbit" which ran for years in various alternative newspapers. He used various mediums, including small washes and enormous, color-filled paintings that celebrate both the real and surreal worlds and he won many awards and artistic grants. He taught and he lectured. He had a Chris Kringle persona with his white beard and twinkling eyes. His friends remember him as a witty, warm and quirky man who never stopped what he loved to do. He was a true artist, a muralist, a sculptor, a political cartoonist, a children’s book writer and illustrator. From his childhood there was nothing else that he wanted to do with his life. His paintings were flamboyant and surrealistic. He was recently quoted as saying that “Art has never been a hobby. I am a fanatic artist. I work as much as my energy allows; it’s my reason for living.”
His last years were difficult as he was confined to a wheelchair but he lived in a senior housing facility in which he converted his bedroom into a studio and he slept in the living room. He was often up at 4 am to paint. I don’t find that strange at all. “My favorite work is the next one I’m going to do,’’ he wrote in a recent letter to a young friend for a school project. Omar said, “My art is based on what feels right. I don’t compete with God or nature ... I feel that if I copy the creator, I’m bound to come out second best.’’ The Casablanca Restaurant in Harvard Square in Cambridge MA commissioned him to paint large murals in 1970. When the restaurant relocated in 1990, the murals were dismantled and reinstalled in the new restaurant in 1991. His now famous epic Casablanca mural depicts the classic film romance of Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart.
Since this is a personal blog, let me tell you how his story affects me. I admire the passionate commitment of an artist like Omar and I would like to emulate that but I cannot bring myself to treat my art as my reason for living. My reasons for living are my relationship with God which began when I was ten years of age; my relationship with the woman to whom I pledged faithfulness 42 years ago; and my relationships with family and friends. The payback on these exceeds all my art no matter how proficient I become.