“I want my viewers to have a choice”

More than just a glance – Canadian artist Richard Motchman about Mask and Column paintings and the importance of interactive art.

Slowly I open one side of a painted wooden mask to reveal what is underneath.  I feel like I am part of this painting, invited and enticed to get a closer look at the model behind the mask.  The face behind the mask is nothing like I imagined – I enjoy the surprise. Interactive doors, three-dimensional canvases, rotating columns – Richard Motchman invites his audience to be curious and to explore.  The Canadian artist on the importance of interactive art.

Richard, you once read a book on aesthetics that discussed the differences between painting and the other arts.  Why did it inspire you?

Richard: Because one of the distinctions made was that music, drama and literature – by their nature – require time to comprehend, while painting, at one level, can be seen at a glance in one strong impression.  This premise inspired me so much that I began creating complex paintings, which are impossible to absorb in a moment. By involving three-dimensional forms and certain interactive elements into my work, I force the viewer to spend time exploring and understanding my paintings.

“At the heart of my art practice is the viewer’s physical interaction with my painting. It enriches the meaning of painting.”

You have an amazing way to bring your subjects into reality. What materials do you use?

Richard: I have used life-casts, canvas and fiberglass to extend the picture plane beyond the usual two-dimensions; my subjects are three-dimensional; they are life-like; they require space. The most recent work is basically flat but with the figures roughly life size.

Yet, in direct opposition to this, you build revolving doors and panels into the paintings which actually remind the viewer of the picture plane and which may alter or transform the essential meaning of the painting when manipulated by the viewer. 

Richard: In this way, I insist that the viewer acknowledge the painting as an object that has been made of wood, canvas and colour, and that he or she be involved in the creative decision about how the painting will be arranged and so first appear to the next person.

Let’s focus on the column paintings for a moment. They are basically flat paintings with an inset triangular column or columns.  How do they work?

Richard: The viewer rotates these columns to change a section of the painting; the panels on the column either provide more information on the subject of the painting or bring in multiple narrative possibilities to the painting, and give a viewer the opportunity to make choices.  Moving the columns means time is involved in the experiencing of the painting, and by rotating the columns the viewer is exposing the nature of the picture plane.

I would like to show my readers a few of your ‘Mask paintings’.   It was fascinating for me to open the mask in order to reveal the face underneath. What does the mask symbolize?

Richard: The mask is chosen by the model and can be reflective of the model’s travels or ancestry, but it is also a metaphor for the various social roles we adopt in life. They usually bring with them different social masks, which often obscure who we really are.

“It is key for me that the viewers of my art have a choice.”


Richard Motchman

And it is with this mask that the viewer physically interacts, opening it up to reveal the model’s face. How do viewer react?

Richard: Touched, curious and interested. For many of them this interaction creates an intimate involvement with the model and also with the painting. This viewer involvement is key to the work for it makes the object nature of painting clear and brings time into painting.

Are you seeking a change from tradition? Is it the interaction between the viewer and the piece of art that makes you tick?

Richard: Indeed. I have always loved to work with paint, but I also want the physical involvement of the viewer with my art.

Does that mean that batteries in your installments is a ‘no go’?

Richard (chuckling): Correct. I want my pieces to exist on their own.

What is your motivation as an artist?

Richard: Good question. I guess my art keeps me sane. It is a transformation from my ordinary life.

Thank you, Richard Motchman, for sharing your work with my readers.


More information:  Richard Motchman exhibits his art at XChanges Gallery in Victoria B.C.

Artist website


Columns paintings


Mask paintings


Photos by D. Herold / Copyright 2014 

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