Born in 1951, Leo Kamen grew up in Ottawa, Ontario, the son of a Russian mother and a Latvian father, both postwar refugees. In the early 1970s he left University of Toronto and moved to a log cabin north of Toronto, where he set up a studio practice devoted to writing, photography and sculpture. He relocated a few years later to Barrie, Ontario, supporting his art by managing a furniture store and slinging beer, after which he moved to Craighurst, Ontario, where by a twist of fate he discovered a boarded-up schoolhouse that was once the studio of Emanuel Hahn and Elizabeth Wyn Wood, two of Canada’s great sculptors. It became his first art gallery. He lived there until 1980 and then moved to Toronto to start a family at the age of 30. In 1982 he became manager of the Tatay Gallery in Toronto. In 1985 he opened the Leo Kamen Gallery in a downtown industrial building at 80 Spadina Avenue, where he remained for 26 years, courting clients and museums, artists and bankruptcy, while exhibiting some of the best cutting-edge sculpture, painting and photography in the country.
In July 2011 he sold the business to a former gallery employee and is currently focusing on his writing. His first book, a memoir called “Rolling the Bones,” was published in 2010. He is currently writing a novel set in Las Vegas, titled “The Ten Ways of Craps,” which explores the nature of chance.
A gallery artist once observed that an art dealer needs a variety of skills to survive. These ranged from bookkeeping to marketing, public relations to graphic design. Degrees in deviant psychology, art history and business administration were helpful. Possessing enough charm to persuade the tightest of wallets to open was essential. Having mastered all of these, the dealer was then ruined for anything else but the selling of his soul for money, status and power.
Since his induction into the world of art dealing, Kamen has discovered two antidotes to such cynicism. The first is visiting artists in their studios: one hour spent in their incandescent company, and his faith in humanity is restored. The second is the curating and installation of exhibitions. As the years have passed, his eye has continued to ache for intelligence and beauty. He has been fortunate to keep finding both.