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This article is taken from PN Review 201, Volume 38 Number 1, September - October 2011.

Bringing Distance to Life: Josef Herman (1911-2000) David Herman
Josef Herman was born one hundred years ago. Two exhibitions have been held in 2011 to mark his centenary. The first, at the Boundary Gallery in London,1 focused on his work in south Wales during the late 1940s and early 1950s. The second, held at the Ben Uri Gallery, looked at his work from when he left Warsaw in 1938 to his arrival in London in the mid-1940s, especially at his work in Glasgow between 1940 and 1943.2 Between them they cover fifteen years: the period when he found his voice as an artist in this country.

What is immediately striking about these exhibitions is how different they are. They could be by two completely different painters. The impression is not of continuity, a painter slowly developing his style, but of discontinuity, someone breaking and starting again. The works from his time in Ystradgynlais, a small mining village near Swansea, are huge, monumental, largely of miners, often set against glowing sunsets. The colours, the style, the subject matter of the earlier drawings and paintings from Glasgow are unrecognisable. The paintings are largely blue, but very different from the brilliant cobalt that appeared in some of his later work. Instead of the glowing sunsets, these paintings often feature the moon as a recurring motif. And instead of coal miners and their families, he drew images from east European Jewish folklore and literature and scenes from the Jewish neighbourhood where he grew up in pre-war Warsaw.

For years, Herman ...

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