ART

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - CA­ROLE MOR­GAN HOPKIN

IT WAS in the 1980s in the Cork Street gallery of Browse and Darby that I stood trans­fixed be­fore Josef Her­man’s paint­ing, Evening, Ystradg­yn­lais. The colours glowed with an in­ner life, the sub­ject, a river, a road­way with dark, home­go­ing fig­ures and a sky aflame with cop­per light. The whole rich im­age was an icon, to which I was per­son­ally con­nected.

Af­ter some time the young Amer­i­can as­sis­tant ap­proached. “You ob­vi­ously like the paint­ing,” she said. “It’s some­where in Poland, I think. He’s Pol­ish, you know.”

Oh, yes, I knew, for I had been equally awed when, as a tod­dler, I sat on Josef’s lap in my grand­par­ents’ house in Ystradg­yn­lais in the Swansea Val­ley. He was telling me a story about a melody that had come from Is­rael and then lost its way. Although I was too young to un­der­stand the deep sig­nif­i­cance of this tale I was held in awe­some at­ten­tion by Josef’s voice, rich and ex­otic as it was.

He had ar­rived in our vil­lage in 1944 af­ter a chance meet­ing with lo­cal writer, David Alexan­der. Im­me­di­ately he felt at home among this min­ing com­mu­nity, who, in a short time, were call­ing him, Joe Bach, a sign of their ab­so­lute ac­cep­tance.

Other émi­gré artists from Europe who set­tled in Wales at this time in­cluded Fred­er­ick Konekamp in West Wales, Ernest Neuschul in Mum­bles, out­side Swansea, Ge­org Mayer-Mar­tin in Mon­mouth and Man Dig­ging by Josef Her­man Heinz Kop­pel in one of the more in­dus­trial val­leys of South Wales. Like Josef, th­ese artists brought with them a broader vi­sion which en­livened Welsh art and still in­flu­ences many young artists to­day.

My grand­fa­ther, the pho­tog­ra­pher, Llew E. Mor­gan, be­came one of Joe’s close friends. On many evenings af­ter Joe’s reg­u­lar 12-hour work­ing day they would walk the Bre­con­shire hills. Joe writes: “On the nar­row road, high hills the colour of moss and a small sky. Walk­ing with Llew all the way from Ystrad we talk about the strange at­trac­tion of iso­lated places.”

When Joe ex­pressed a de­sire to see the min­ers at work, Llew ar­ranged a visit to the lo­cal col­liery. Joe sketched while Llew took the pho­to­graphs. The artist’s em­pa­thy with the hard­ship of the min­ers’ work­ing life formed the foun­da­tion of his own work — the miner

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