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"Every man for himself"
Michael Hermesh, "Every man for himself," ceramic, 33" X 7" X 7".
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"Me and my shadow"
Michael Hermesh, "Me and my shadow," ceramic, 44" X 6" X 5".
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"Mocking bird in an orange bush (detail)"
Michael Hermesh, "Mocking bird in an orange bush (detail)," bronze, 19" X 29" X 21".
Art Ark Gallery, Kelowna
Oct 26 – Nov 10, 2006
By Portia Priegert
Figurative artist Michael Hermesh has no shortage of baggage – roped bundles, bulky satchels and bulging suitcases feature conspicuously in his bronze and ceramic sculptures.
Hermesh’s recent exhibition at the Art Ark Gallery in Kelowna included figures perched on wrapped crates and bound-up bales while others clenched valises and briefcases. In one work, Portrait of a Thin Man, his protagonist is posed upside down with head buried in the pedestal, a suitcase balanced capably on his feet. “The head is actually an irrelevant thing and the portrait is actually of a suitcase,” says Hermesh, who is based in Penticton. “ I’m making a portrait of the baggage – not the person anymore.”
Tension is a constant feature in Hermesh’s roughly textured figures, which often seem loosely anchored or off-keel, either sloping off in seeming defiance of gravity or telescoping vertically. His subjects typically gaze vacantly, seemingly disconnected from their immediate surroundings, often clutching their hands awkwardly at their sides as if to betray their discomfort. That’s the case with Hermesh’s best-known work, The Baggage Handler, the public art project that created controversy in Penticton two years ago after city officials told him to cover the figure’s genitals.
Hermesh, who did media interviews with reporters across the country, included a bust of Frank, as the figure is affectionately known, in his Art Ark exhibition. He is still engaged in a legal fight with the city seeking recovery of repair costs for Frank, whose penis was broken off by vandals. The sculpture is now housed at a local winery, where tourists can pose for snapshots with it.
Still, the ongoing dispute has taken its toll on Hermesh, as have his duties as a caregiver for his elderly mother and a brother undergoing chemotherapy. While his artistic productivity has slowed, Hermesh says confronting mortality has reaffirmed his commitment to art.
“It’s given me more reason to have integrity in my work,” he says. “It’s given me more reason to realize that art does have meaning. Art is a very positive and powerful force. I can’t trivialize what I do.
“It doesn’t mean I’m more depressed or more grumpy or whatever. It just means that what I’m doing is important. More than anything, I have a responsibility towards my art and towards my talent. It’s a window or a tool, or however you want to look at it, that has been given to me that I need to use with integrity.”
Hermesh, who was born in Saskatchewan but moved to the Okanagan as a teenager, has made art off-and-on most of his life. He studied at Okanagan College and the Vancouver School of Art and has supported himself as a chef and a cabinetmaker. Some 15 years ago, he tried to divorce himself from art. But then, about seven years ago, he came back to it, making a commitment to work full-time and establish a career.
“Whenever I go into my studio and start working, I have an absolute feeling like I am at home,” he says. “I don’t really have any choice but to sculpt. I’m basically fairly miserable if I’m not working at something in terms of art.”