Harold Tovish on Herbert Katzman
I've known Herbert Katzman for more than thirty-five years. We met in Paris in 1949 at some sort of reception in a posh Right Bank hotel. He invited me to his studio. A few days later I was climbing some very rickety stairs to his top floor garret (right out of La Bohème). I was in a state of nervous anticipation, fearful that I would not care for his paintings. I knew he was of the breed that could not separate himself from his work. Our infant friendship was at stake. I needn't have worried. The fact is, I was bowled over his paintings. At the time he was doing big, muscular expressionist canvases of Paris , Prague ans still life studies that displayed a confidence and authority I could only admire and envy. His heroes were Soutine and Kokoschka but their influence had been absorbed. The brand imprinted on his canvases was very much of his own. Katzman had all the attributes of a first-rate talent; the skill, the ambition, the audacity and the temperment.
Since those early years I have witnessed the evolutionary changes in his work. These changes occurred independently of the epidemic of change in the art world as on "art movement" succeded another with ever increasing rapidity. Through all these artistic upheavals Katzman went on obeying his own instincts as other artists have done before him, especially those who knew the purpose for which they were born.
Now in his sixties Katzman is doing the best paintings and drawings of this life. Each time I visit his studio in Westbeth I come away affected — or better still — infected by what I have seen and felt. I have given a good deal of thought to the special qualities of Katzman's work which I find so moving.
In his work of recent years, many of the paintings and drawings seem to be pervaded by a mood of melancholy. I have the feeling that Katzman sees life as essentially tragic but somehow redeemed by its intrinsic beauty. When he does a portrait the subject appears wheighted down by experience but with a dignity that is intact. He paints women with extraordinary tenderness often bathed in a mysterious radiant light. His studies of children are full of a rueful humor, which suggests that their charm and high spirits are vulnerable to time and life. He has made several large chalk drawings of the cityobscured by smoke and fog; when the harsh and brittle image of a modern city is softened and chastened by nature. Katzman seems to know in his bones that all is passing, changing — the people, the cities, everything — changing irrevocably. It is his self-imposed task to record what he sees and feels about the world. He does so brilliantly, with the skill, clarity and lyricism of a fine poet. In short, he makes authentic works of art.
Those who daily experience the cruel pleasure of trying to make a work of art learn to recognize the real thing when they see it. So it should come as no surprise that his colleagues have recognized the importance of his achievement and have honored him by organizing this retrospective exhibition.
Harold Tovish, Boston, 1985