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"'Art in itself is an expression of hope' Raya Herzig on the Aftermath exhibition at Exeter Castle"

What’s been your biggest artistic influence?
R: Asking this question most people expect to hear names of well-known artists,  or they pull a curtain of labels over the artwork, usually isms, thus making it plainly impossible for themselves to see what’s in front of them. That’s why it is so satisfactory to bring children into exhibitions. They will talk about what they see not what they know.
But of course there are artists whose work, or rather whose way of seeing the world, I love more than that of others, like Max Ernst, Jean Dubuffet, Philip Guston, Richard Wilson, Rebecca Horn.

How has the Aftermath show come about and what are the differences and similarities between your and fellow Aftermath exhibitor John McDermott’s work?
R: It was in the autumn 2009 on the occasion of Exeter Open Studios, when I came across John McDermott’s BATTLE ENSIGN. There are shy paintings, that open up only after a long time, but this one talked to me with such a strong voice, I wanted to meet the artist right away, which I did. So I met John and we talked like long-standing friends about experiences that influenced our work. And he spoke about his commitment for the cause of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), something only too familiar to me throughout my life. The same evening still John had a look at my website. He rang and asked if I was interested to put up an exhibition together with him. Sometimes things are simple and easy.
More difficult is it to describe the differences and similarities between our work. One difference are our origins – John is a proud Scotsman, I’m an Eastern European. The similarity probably is, that we both have seen a lot of death, but both are passionate about life.

The Aftermath exhibition aims to highlight the ‘invisible wounds’ of the trauma of dealing with war and conflict, but it is said to be ultimately uplifting. How does the artwork manage to convey this?
R: A direct, graphic representation of war atrocities, ‘oil on canvas’, might even verge on Kitsch if it’s not done by a genius like Goya or Picasso in his Guernica. But even there are aesthetic qualities we actually can enjoy, independently of the content. Art in itself is an expression of hope, is the ultimate opposite to the deadly silence of despair.


What role do art and the artist have in society?
R: A good way to answer this question is to imagine a world without art. Mankind still would behave the same way it always did. There still would be war, hunger and cruelty. Art has no moral power, and if it tries to act that way, it ends as propaganda. So what would be missing?
I think I have to leave this question with you.

You’ve said of your painting “I have to paint, otherwise I don’t live. When I paint, it’s a way for me to live in my private world.” And you’ve had more than 30 solo exhibitions throughout the world. How does it feel to have your own private world on view?
R:  “I have to paint otherwise I don’t live.” Yes, that’s true. Painting is a specific way of living. Art is the language of this life. It develops throughout an artist’s life. It is personal, but still takes in influences from all sides, as any language does, that’s not formal, stale or dead.

When I paint… I live in my private world” easily can lead to a misunderstanding. Although any art or literature is somehow autobiographical, it’s never ever private. That’s the difference between children’s drawings and Picasso, or a teenager’s diary and Robert Louis Stevenson.

Is there anything you’d like to add?
R:  Yes, please go and see Aftermath, our exhibition at Exeter Castle.

Raya Herzig, many thanks