Michael Hermesh, studio visit to sculptor

On our recent road trip to British Columbia's Okanagan wine region, we arrived at our hosts Michael and Carol Hermesh bang on the expected dot of 7 pm in Summerland. Michael Hermesh is one of my figurative artists from FigurativeArtist.org and the only one we will visit on this trip. He works in sculpture mainly but also in drawing and painting.

It's quite amazing that we get to meet such interesting people through my connections from FigurativeArtist and this couple was no exception. Michael is a very talented figurative sculptor and Carol Hermesh is a real whippersnapper! No, seriously folks, she actually makes custom kangaroo leather signal, target and bullwhips, among her many and varied talents and passions.

Among her many past working lives, she's been a race horse breeder, a psychic and currently focuses her energies on cracking the whip on the admin side of Michael's art career, playing poker professionally online and in the real world, creating and hosting websites, making her whips and running an active site about the animal spirit world, something I have to say I was completely ignorant about. What an interesting and resourceful woman!

Michael went to Vancouver Art School back in the 1970's before it became the Emily Carr School of Art. After art school he became a cook and chef out of necessity and then a cabinetmaker but always kept his artwork going alongside his day jobs. Cabinetmaking was more physically demanding than artwork and he turned to art full time in 1999.

The home studio is spacious and set up to handle up to very large works with an overhead pulley and a large door to the loading area outside. No large sculpture pieces were in the studio on the day we visited but many smaller works were about, in various stages of progress and states of dress and undress.

These small clay figures in bulky overcoats will be awards for the BC Museums Association when finished. They are small scale versions of his larger Mocking Bird in an Orange Bush.

Michael's clay sculptures are fired once in his studio kiln then patinaed further with minerals and surface treatments but no further firings or glazing.

Hatbox Man in fired clay is a maquette for a larger work which is simmering away in his mind just now. This piece is the maquette for a bronze that will feature different ceramic hatboxes for each edition.

Sometimes bad things happen to good art but Michael rolls with the punches and accepts breakage as part of the evolution of a piece. One thing becomes another. This pair of figures without heads will become new pieces with completely new objects set on top of the metal rods.

One large life size figure he was working on from a famous photo from the Vietnam War was just filled with too much pain and he cannibalized it into several different parts, leaving this arm holding the gun as the only part still holding onto the pain and violence. The large torso, now armless and headless sold quite happily without the other parts and new life was breathed into the process and journey without perpetuating the pain.

One of Michael's most emotional connections is to a piece that came about through complete serendipity. Michael sliced off a nice chunk of clay with a pulling wire one day and quite loved the beautiful natural curve that was created. He saw a form in the clay, squeezed a little head onto the form and casually stood it up on the shelf to dry. Eventually the little form got fired and put on a small mahogany plinth. It had such energy that it became the maquette for this large bronze. Standing Man, bronze, 60 x 29 x 9 Inches has found a home in the Summerland Ornamental Gardens, a fitting place for its life and uplifting energy.

Michael gets much of his current bronze foundry work done by Pyramid Bronze Works in Kelowna, not only competitively priced but very capable and so close! This is not what I hear from some of my other bronze sculptors, some of whom send pieces many hundreds or even thousands of miles to be cast!

Michael has done some artwork for the latest CD of spoken word artist Shane Koyczan whose electrifying and nation-defining spoken word piece We Are More at the Opening Ceremonies of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics was completely riveting.

What an emotionally moving artist Shane is and he also lives nearby. By turns hilarious and haunting, poet Shane Koyczan puts his finger on the pulse of what it’s like to be young and … different. To This Day, his spoken-word poem about bullying, captivated millions as a viral video (created, crowd-source style, by 80 animators). Here, he gives a glorious, live reprise with backstory and violin accompaniment by Hannah Epperson.

I'm not sure what the content of Shane's new CD will be but it's sure to be fascinating and even better brought into the world with the original artwork of Michael Hermesh and the digital manipulation skills of multi-talented Carol.

In preparation for a solo exhibition in Vancouver's Petley Jones Gallery in late 2012, Michael returned to painting, creating many canvases and panels to fill the walls behind his sculpture works. The show was very successful and almost a complete sell out. Michael paints in acrylics, not being patient enough for oil paints and wanting a more direct approach.

Frank The Baggage Handler. This installation sculpture caused quite a controversy in Penticton a few years back, images by Drew Makepeace. Just before the 7 foot naked standing man was to be installed, Michael was informed that it would not be allowed to stand naked and that the genitals would have to be covered. Michael has nothing against creating sculptures with clothes but this was completely contrary to his artistic vision and at the last minute and he refused to comply more than to cover the offending area with a basic black metal plate which of course looked completely ridiculous and fanned the flames even more. The piece was vandalized and had to be taken down before its agreed terms of display. The lawsuit that Michael brought in small claims court against the City of Penticton was a lengthy one but he won, setting a legal precedent for artist's rights.

This ceramic sculpture about Darfur is a tower of shroud-wrapped corpses topped with businessmen in suits, expressing a cynicism that no genocide would occur without someone profiting from it in some way, the Suits behind the Thugs.

Tools of the studio and working sketchbooks with a morning sketch of Carol tell the story of an artist true to his vision. Michael is more terrified of not caring if he does not create than fear of failing at it. Failure is acceptable, not caring about creating is not. This is one of the things that pushes him along.

Michael draws Carol as she starts each day with 3 pages of hand written thoughts but his drawings evolve into all kinds of interesting images, sometimes taken far past reality.

Carol uses WorkingArtist, a provenance program that charts the journey of Michael's sculpture. This important artist's tool has come in very handy when proving that a certain gallery did indeed receive a certain work which later went missing, a cautionary tale indeed.

We stayed up, chatting and exchanging stories over a couple of bottles of wine before pulling the plug and tucking into Carol and Michael's nice and cozy spare bedroom, the second offering of hospitality that has come our way through my FigurativeArtist site.

Thanks so much Carol and Michael! We enjoyed our visit and hope to wander back next time we find ourselves in your beautiful part of the world in Summerland in British Columbia's wine region in the Okanagan.

Good luck with the sculpture and painting, the whips and spirits!
Michael Hermesh

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