Barry Herring and Richard Motchman have a lot in common.
For starters, they’re co-hosting Fragments and Masks, an art show at Xchanges Gallery opening Oct. 5. In fact, you can hardly tell them apart in the promotional image for the show — two fragments of two faces pushed up together, creating a curious and complex mixed-media portrait.
Both artists are long-time Xchanges studio members and although they’ve known each other for a decade, they only recently discovered their mutual affection for both portraiture and the kind of art that is impossible to absorb in a moment.
Fragments and Masks features complex portraiture by both artists; Motchman’s paintings explore a narrow vertical strip of his subjects’ bodies from just below the navel up to the head, topped with an interactive mask of the subjects’ choosing; Herring uses black and white, wet darkroom photography printing techniques and a sharp knife to present fragmented portrayals of his subjects.
“I like the ambiguity,” says Herring. “I don’t like images where you look at it and you see everything. It’s big and it’s done and that’s that. I understand. I’m more interested in something that draws me in and says ‘what if or what is that? What are we looking at here?’ It forces me, as the viewer, to get more engaged in the art, and that’s the kind of art I stand in front of as opposed to just whisk by in the gallery.”
Although some of Herring’s work is more abstract, all the images come from formal portraits he shot in his studio.
“These people posed,” says Herring. “They all sat for me with a backdrop behind them and I photographed these nine people exactly the same way every time.”
Both Herring and Motchman are subjects in Herring’s 14-piece collection.
Motchman’s roughly life-sized works feature narrow nude portraits of at least four Xchanges members, taking advantage of his fellow artists’ sympathy to the cause, he says with a laugh. His process involves photographing his subjects before painting a section of their bodies on a narrow vertical canvas and applying a mask, which he also makes.
“Most of the women are just taken with an unbuttoned shirt,” says Motchman. “There’s implied nudity rather than actual nudity.”
“The narrow format fragments, but it also focuses on just the person,” says Motchman.
The model would choose what kind of mask they would like to wear, be it Aztec, carnival or in the case of his self-portrait — West African.
“I was born in East Africa, so I wanted something from there, but in Kenya there isn’t a large tradition of masks,” says Motchman.
Each mask is made up of two doors fitted with wooden knobs, allowing the viewer to interact with the painting by opening to reveal the person’s face underneath.
“I like that the viewer can choose, too, how the next viewer will interact with each piece,” says Motchman.
It’s not very often that you are encouraged to touch, let alone play with art in a gallery, so get down to Xchanges and get in on the fun. M
Fragments and Masks
Xchanges Gallery (6E-2333 Government)
Fri., Oct. 5, 7-9pm
Continues until Oct. 28
Saturdays and Sundays 12–4pm