California-via-Columbus painter's new works will be on display at (Not) Sheep Gallery through Oct. 28

Art educator Linda Regula thought she found the perfect way to gently let down the 3½-year-old boy whose mother brought him in for oil-painting lessons. When Mom said she’d stick around since her son had never been left alone, Regula said that wasn’t possible.

“Bye, Mommy,” Paul Richmond said, not knowing he was setting out on an artistic career that has led from Columbus to California’s Central Coast and back this month with “The Masks We Wear,” an exhibit of 12 new works on display at (Not) Sheep Gallery in the Short North through Oct. 28.

“There’s so much rich symbolism with masks, whether they’re hiding something or revealing something,” said Richmond, who’s now 39 and lives in Monterey, California, with his husband, Dennis.

(Not) Sheep owner Caren Peterson said masks will be an annual October theme at the gallery, a year-old Russell Street space whose artists make statements about politics, race, gender and other aspects of culture and society.

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“It’s really about identity issues,” she said. “Whether we actually wear a mask or whether we put on makeup, or whether we dress a certain way or however we present ourselves to the world to make people believe that we are who we want them to believe we are. That’s what this is all about.”

Richmond’s works explore both masks we put on and masks that are put on us by others. One of the most powerful pieces — it has been projected onto government buildings by the group Vigil for Democracy — depicts the forlorn face of child whose eyes stare out from behind barbed wire. It’s titled “American Dreamer.”

The anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric of the Trump administration, Richmond said, is “like a mask that these politicians are forcing onto these human beings to separate us from their community.”

A happier image is “Chosen Family,” which portrays Nina West in the style of a stained-glass window Richmond remembers from Catholic school. Virginia West hovers over her shoulder as a mascara-bearing angel.

Richmond said his new paintings purposely vary in style, reflecting each individual. “Mise en Face,” a portrait of his sister, Laura, executive chef at the Columbus Museum of Art, evokes the work of Renaissance painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo, whose faces were depicted as a collection of fruits and vegetables.

“The Depths” looks like a black-and-white photograph of an older, gray-haired woman, except for the colorful flowers of memories that surround her.

“All of my models are people who come from sort of the fringes of society,” he said. “I wanted to take people who have been marginalized in one way or another and use the masks to give them a strong presence, to say, ‘Here I am. You have to pay attention to me.’”