story by Derek Ferrar
Frank Sheriff is a _________." That’s what it said on the calling cards my friend, the sculptor, used to carry around a few years back. "Fill in the blank," he’d say when he gave it to you, and you’d laugh.
photos by Kyle Rothenborg
But it’s only now, as I sit with Frank in his funky artist’s pad interviewing him for this story, that I really see how much truth there was in that typically Frank-inesque little gag. Like that motto, Frank and his finely wrought metalwork are deep and funny, and both leave themselves open to the beholder’s interpretation.
Frank is best known for his wry mix-and-match constructions that fuse together odd bits and pieces cast into metal from his collection of toy animals, game pieces, model parts, cake decorations and other miscellaneous doodads. Miniature minotaurs row a push-me-pull you vessel in opposing directions, spurred on by matching TV sets at each end. Dark, wheeled factories churn out enigmas. A mystical waffle iron stands ready to stamp crucifixes into batter. Animal heads and miniature tools sprout spontaneously from human forms. Dice, good-luck cats, wishbones and other symbols of chance abound. Wheels and wings sprout everywhere.
"Basically, I use imagery of religion, architecture and machinery to create myths and fables," Frank says. "I’m fascinated with humor, but I want to do it with enough care to make it serious."
A model car and underground comics freak as a kid, Frank has brought his love of gadgets and outlandish imagery to his art. Many of his pieces are kinetic, driven by intricate hand-crafted levers and cams that make wings flap, supplicant frogs bow and scrape, or Buddhas twirl when you turn a handle.
Frank’s work is familiar in local contemporary art exhibitions, and he has collected virtually all of the honors available to a Hawai‘i artist, including several commissions for big public sculptures. And now he has been selected, along with three other notable local sculptors, as a featured artist at this year’s Artists of Hawai‘i show, which runs from June 2 though July 24 at the Honolulu Academy of Arts.
"When we select invited artists for Artists of Hawai‘," says Jennifer Saville, the Academy’s curator of Western art, "we’re looking not only for artistic excellence but also for the person’s long-term contribution to the visual arts in Hawai‘i. So while Frank is an outstanding sculptor—particularly in the way his work can be whimsical but still really make you think—we also wanted to acknowledge all the teaching he has done and his ongoing role in the arts community."