Artist Richard Mothes in his home in East Hampton. DANA SHAW
Richard Mothes's "Reminisced Ritual," 2022, 5' x 4,' oil, acrylic, pastel on canvas.
Richard Mothes's "Catharsis For The Lost" 2022, 48" x 48," oil and acrylic on canvas.
Richard Mothes's "Black Eagle," 2023, 36" x 48," oil and acrylic on wood panel.
For Rich Mothes, home exists all around him — in the East End of his childhood, his house and studio in the Northwest Woods, and the connections he has built here.
It also lives within the brushstrokes of his paintings, the moments they capture and the worlds they recreate. They hold loss and anger, regret and loneliness, love, rapture and wonder, all within the confines of home. And, starting Friday, a culmination of life sketches, photographs and conjured memories will be on view at The Clinton Academy in East Hampton.
He has called the solo exhibition “There’s No Place Like Home.”
“When I make just to make, it all revolves around the same thing, and that’s what I see and live every day,” Mothes said during a recent interview. “So that becomes the conversations with the people. It becomes the memories of what was, what is and combining that all together to really make, in my mind, what a picture of home is to me.”
Growing up in East Hampton, the artist paints his childhood as an idyllic one — a cross between a Norman Rockwell painting and an Andrew Wyeth painting, he said, “like something out of a movie.” He would go on to study mechanical engineering at Clarkson University and managed East Hampton Indoor Tennis for over 20 years before pivoting toward art.
“I really didn’t pick up a brush until, probably, my mid-30s,” he said.
In a short span of time, Mothes found himself having conversations at the tennis club with a cast of heavy hitters in the art world — painter Eric Fischl, photographer Ralph Gibson, architect Lee Skolnick and Philippe de Montebello, a former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And after showing them his portfolio, they all agreed separately and unanimously that he needed to take it more seriously.
“I mean, I’m not religious, but I was blessed. That might make me religious,” he said with a laugh. “That really pushed me to get my MFA just recently, and I left the tennis club for regular working hours through the family business, which gives me time to make art.”
When he isn’t working with his family at East Hampton Plumbing & Heating Supply, Mothes can often be found in some stage of his artistic process, which starts with his point of inspiration. It could be a found image, a memory, a story he heard, or simply observing life pass by.
“It’s pretty much every day, like reading the newspaper, walking down the street,” he said. “I have my benches in certain areas where I’ll sit and just draw and watch people in the area, and something will just come to me and that’s kind of how it starts.”
When asked where the aforementioned benches are, he replied, “Oh, that’s a secret.”
In loose terms, they’re on Main Street in East Hampton Village, before the bustle of the day begins. They’re in Sag Harbor, a prime spot for people watching. They’re along the docks in Amagansett, where he spent time as a child on his father’s boat. And they’re also in his mind, where he sifts through formative memories or stories he once heard.
“The Free Life Balloon,” an oil and acrylic on wood panel, pays homage to the seven-story high Roziére balloon that lifted off from a field in Springs and met its fate somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean in 1972. In oil and acrylic on Yupo paper, “Gathering Rosebuds” captures the feeling Mothes once had as a small child, watching larger-than-life waves crash on the beach, as well as the reverence he holds for the sea today. And “Catharses for the Lost” is a tribute to Mike Stedman, Dave Connick, Michael Vigilant and Scott Clarke, four young fishermen who steamed out of Montauk Harbor in 1984 and never returned.
Mothes was reading “The Lost Boys of Montauk,” a book by Amanda Fairbanks which retells the story, when inspiration for the oil and acrylic on canvas struck.
“I vividly remember when that happened,” he said. “I was just reading through it and it made me realize, thinking about being a kid and how that felt hearing about that news and how the community really came together for the families — and that translated into a painting.”
Among the nearly 30 paintings, drawings and prints, the exhibition will also include four portraits of community members — a series where Mothes said he has felt the most personal growth. It starts with a recorded conversation in a place that is meaningful to the subject, which the artist edits into a five- to eight-minute clip that viewers can listen to, followed by the artwork.
“I ask them, ‘How do you want the world to see you?’” Mothes said.
When viewers consider this body of work, perhaps they will ask themselves the same question. Perhaps they will see the balance of relationships, silence and loneliness — pillars of Mothes’s artistic expression. Perhaps they will consider what home means to them.
“And maybe they don’t see anything — maybe they just walk through and they’re like, ‘Oh, that’s pretty,’” Mothes said. “That’s okay, too.”
“There’s No Place Like Home,” a solo exhibition by Rich Mothes, will open with a reception on Friday, May 5, from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Clinton Academy, 151 Main Street, East Hampton, and remain on view through Monday, May 29. For more information, or to RSVP to the opening, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
One fine body…