Okanagan artist behind controversial naked sculpture says genitals were never the problem | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Okanagan artist behind controversial naked sculpture says genitals were never the problem

Penticton artist Michael Hermesh stands on his street with a limb and gun he sculpted.

The South Okanagan's naked sculpture Frank the Baggage Handler was exposing much more than his penis in Penticton, says its creator.

Although the penis was an issue before it even went up, Michael Hermesh, the man behind the life-sized sculpture, believes it was Frank’s vulnerability that rubbed some people the wrong way.

“He’s quite a vulnerable guy,” Hermesh said.

“People most upset about it were people that look like him, people that were of the age and basically it’s of the age where you start feeling your own mortality. You got your nice pickup truck, your nice this and that but your mortality is kind of just around the corner, ya know, that’s not something you want to see. You look at this guy, the Baggage Handler, and that’s what you’d see.”

The sculpture is of a skinny, balding, middle-aged man. Frank has nothing except for the briefcase in his hand and the original sculpture was surrounded by additional briefcases. He looks like he’s been weathered by decades of routine and monotony and is stuck in a moment of staring up into the abyss.

“He’s got a language that kind of follows you through the art,” Hermesh said.

Frank the Baggage Handler by Michael Hermesh from Penticton.
Frank the Baggage Handler by Michael Hermesh from Penticton.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/www.the-baggage-handler.com

Frank was created when the City of Penticton commissioned Hermesh for a sculpture. In January 2005 it was placed near a traffic circle but before it was even erected, people complained about how distracting the penis would be for drivers. Some people wanted the sculpture to wear pants.

“I had to cover it so I covered it in the crudest way possible with a metal plate,” Hermesh said.

However the metal plate only lasted a few weeks before it was removed.

And then vandals would have their way with Frank’s penis, breaking the whole package right off. They also cracked other parts of the body and destroyed the suitcases.

READ MORE: Works of Banksy, Warhol focus of exhibit at Kelowna Art Gallery

That led to the statue’s removal and a debate over whether or not the statue was worth repairing. The debate led to Hermesh filing a lawsuit against the city which he ended up winning in 2008.

By then, the nude statue had been exposed to the entire country and some people outside of it. In the media, headline writers and radio jockeys were having a ball with all the possible puns. The story, or at least fragments of it, was picked up by the New York Times, Globe and Mail, and the CBC.

The original Frank was sold to a private collector in North Vancouver, however a bronze replica stands tall and proud at Red Rooster Winery.

Hermesh is currently honing his artistic skills by completing one drawing per day, which he shares to his personal Facebook page.

Up in Vernon another public art project is causing a fuss, after city council approved $33,000 for so-called 'creepy'- and 'scary'-looking murals. But there was a public backlash and council put that decision on hold until public consultation can happen.

READ MORE: Vernon council to spend $33,000 on scary public art

As an artist who's no stranger to controversial art, Hermesh would like to see the murals in Vernon go up.

“If it’s got people angry and upset, discussing back and forth, then it’s already a good piece of art,” he said. “Right from that point, even without having primed the wall yet, it’s already doing a good job.”

He said artwork doesn’t necessarily have to be pretty or attractive to do its job.

“That was a large part of what Frank was about. It got people to ask themselves, ‘Why am I angry about this? Why is it good art? Why is it crappy?’”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Dan Walton or call 250-488-3065 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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