Monday, 6 January 2020

Review of Josef Herman: Journey at Flowers Gallery, Kingsland Road, London

Josef Herman: Journey
Flowers Gallery, Kingsland Road, London
15 November 2019 – 25 January 2020

I don’t know what I will be
A poet or a painter
I don’t know whether I will speak
Through poems or paintings.

I like pictures in poetry
I like poetry in pictures
I don’t know what I will be
A poet or a painter.

Perhaps I will never be
A poet or a painter
And with unwritten poems
I will pass through life, a living picture.

(Josef Herman, age 12)

Born in Warsaw in 1911, Josef Herman, the subject of this two-floor retrospective, comprising works drawn from a career spanning half a century, was the son of an illiterate Jewish cobbler. He grew up in a predominantly Jewish working-class neighbourhood and had little formal education. Nevertheless, he was a voracious reader and well versed in what was going on in the wider art world. 

In 1938, Herman moved to Brussels to escape the onslaught of nazism. From there, he fled via France to Britain – first to Glasgow, then to London, then to Ystradgynlais in south Wales, then back to London, then to Suffolk, and ultimately to London again – where he remained until he died in 2000, age 89. Herman’s choice of the Belgian capital as his first port of call was significant, given the decision of so many other émigré artists to head to the artistic capital of Paris. As his son, David, writes in his contribution to a catalogue published by Ben Uri Gallery in 2014: “That generation of Jewish refugees, especially those from central and eastern Europe, divided into those who were by temperament insiders (for example, GR Elton and Isaiah Berlin) and those who were permanent outsiders. Herman was in every sense an outsider: he was from eastern Europe, passionately involved with Jewish culture and soaked in Yiddish writing, politically on the left. Above all, his artistic formation could hardly have been more remote from the central British traditions.”

Read the full review here

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