Published February 2003
Length 304 pages
Illustrations 50 B&W + 8pp colour
The Journals begin in 1948 in Ystradgynlais, the Welsh mining village that Josef Herman loved, and which he made his home for more than a decade, finding there what he needed to express himself as a painter. He arrived in the Swansea Valley at the end of a journey which began in Warsaw where he was born in 1911. His passion for art and an awareness of the prevailing anti-Semitism took him to Brussels where he studied his beloved Flemish masters. But, with the Nazi invasion he escaped to France, ending up finally in an internment camp in Scotland. In these Journals we read how he discovered the fate of his family and of his subsequent and enduring anguish.
Josef Herman’s years in Wales coincided with him establishing his reputation – a fact barely reflected in the Journals. Instead we see the very private preoccupations of a man and an artist, always drawing and painting, thinking about what he wants to express, how to achieve it, how to strip away anything not essential. These are, above all, an artist’s Journals: there is much discussion of painters he admired, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Goya, Cézanne, Permeke and Moreau, among others; of their techniques; of the elements that make a good drawing; of colour and his appreciation of pigment; of working methods; of the role of place – Wales, Suffolk, Corfu, Mexico – and the role of memory and the imagination. We live with his anxieties about a certain painting and watch him struggle to find the right expression for it, always working and reworking.
Although there are gaps in the Journals these prove irrelevant as we are drawn in to Josef Herman’s private world – family, friends, literature, music, politics and the art world break in, but much less than his friends might have expected. Outwardly a gregarious man and a lover of good conversation, it would seem from these Journals that he lived almost entirely for his work, and his growing desire to isolate himself expresses itself more and more strongly towards the end of his life. But not quite entirely – ever the observer of the world around him he writes, ‘…the moment of life matters. Life is the centre, not art.’
Josef Herman died on 19 February 2000.
About Josef Herman
Born in Poland, 1911, he left in 1938 to study art in Belgium. He escaped the Nazis, fleeing to France and then to Glasgow, where he started exhibiting his art. In 1944 moved to Ystradgynlais in Wales for 11 years. He held regular exhibitions and in 1990 was appointed a Royal Academician.