Page last updated at 15:11 GMT, Wednesday, 14 April 2010 16:11 UK

A play about the life of Josef Herman opens in Swansea

The Secret of Belonging, a play about Josef Herman
A new play dramatises the life of long-time Swansea resident and Polish artist, Josef Herman

A play dramatising the life of the Polish artist Josef Herman and his time spent in the mining village of Ystradgynlais is to open in Swansea.

Herman only originally came to Wales for a two week holiday but found his muse in a working class community and stayed for 11 years.

His paintings in Wales defined his style and reputation and in turn inspired a generation of Welsh artists.

The Secret of Belonging opens at the Taliesin Arts Centre on 22 April.

Herman left Warsaw shortly before the second World War to escape the growing anti-Semitism.

After living in Glasgow he settled in Wales in 1944 after going on holiday to the Brecon Beacons.

It was seeing some colliers coming back from work that was a eureka moment for him
Phyl Harris, who plays Josef Herman

Actor Phyl Harris, who plays Herman in the production, believes that the painter identified strongly with the mining village.

"Something struck a chord in him, the place was a parallel to the working class community in Warsaw he grew up in," said Phyl Harris.

"It was seeing some colliers coming back from work against the bright yellow sun that was a eureka moment for him.

"He wanted to get into the souls of those people."

Playwright Michael Waters said: "He always painted working people, whether farmers in Belgium or labourers in Mexico, but it was with the mining community in Wales that he really found his muse."

The roots of the play lie in a 50-minute production performed at the Wales Millennium Centre in 2006 in partnership with the incubator project - an initiative run by the centre to develop new plays.

A play about Polish painter Josef Herman is to open in Swansea
Artist Josef Herman lost his entire family in the Holocaust.

Following positive audience reaction, the playwright developed the story by interviewing people from Ystradgynlais who remembered Herman and visiting Warsaw to gain an understanding of the world and family he left behind.

The Jewish artist's family were all killed in the Holocaust and the guilt he felt over leaving them is one of the play's themes.

He famously once said that the artist escaped Warsaw but the man was left behind.

For Michael Waters the heart of the play is the friendship the man the locals called "Jo Bach" found in Ystradgynlais.

He said: "The play is really about a Welsh community and how open a Welsh community was to taking a stranger in."

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