East City Artnotes—Wayne Paige Changing Landscapes

By Claudia Rousseau, Ph.D. on October 4, 2021
Wayne Paige, The Arrival, mixed media, ink on paper, meteorite fragments, 14” x 11”x1.5”, 2018.  Photo courtesy of the artist.

A fascinating show of six large paintings and twelve pen and ink drawings by Washington DC artist Wayne Paige have been on view at Buchannan Partners Art Gallery located in the graceful Hylton Performing Arts Center of the Science and Technology campus of George Mason University in Manassas, VA.  The show’s full title is rather long because it is meant to announce the cautionary narrative that the drawings begin and the paintings continue—Changing Landscapes: The Digital Age, Encroachment, and Eventual Outcomes.  The artist’s short statement sets the scene:

“The Digital Age has brought upon us a binary kaleidoscope fog blanketing both perception and reality.  I think of my artwork as not only beyond the fog, but also behind the curtain of technology.” [1]

The drawings constitute a series made in 2018 that tells the story.  Each of them is the same size, 14” x 11” x 1.5”, in shadow box frames with black backing.  Sprinkled around the drawings, inside the frames, are actual meteorite fragments, adding to the science fiction feeling of the content.  Paige’s innocents are represented in his signature “clothespin” abstraction, while the invading forces are similarly anonymous, but have more humanoid features like arms and hands.  Arriving in a “celestial armada,” they attempt to colonize the “unsuspecting inhabitants with gifts of digital devices.”[2]

Wayne Paige, Be Careful What You Wish For, mixed media, ink on paper, meteorite fragments, 14” x 11”x1.5”, 2018.  Photo courtesy of the artist.

Violence ensues, and although there is a long period of suffering and loss, some of the innocents survive.  Nevertheless, their world is forever changed, and although they continue to live their lives and reproduce, they are confounded by this changed reality.  Paige doesn’t actually depict any of this, but it is implied in the strange dreamlike scenes in the black and white drawings, while the characters in the paintings, which are in Paige’s limited color palette (black, white, orange and blue) represent the “survivors”.

Wayne Paige, Expecting the Unexpected, oil on canvas, (2 panels), 40” x 60”, 2019.  Photo courtesy of the artist.

The drawings are all made in Paige’s exquisitely detailed technique, and feature many of the symbols that are present in other drawings of this style by the artist, like shark fins signaling danger.  In both the drawings and the paintings (the latter are all from 2019) the artist employs a painstakingly applied stippling, with pen or brush, that gives texture and a kind of glowing light to these works, while also a feeling of tension and strangeness.  The sense of alarm that the viewer can sense in the drawings, and the surreal world represented in the paintings is achieved by Paige’s use of flat black against the stippling, and his abstract, but surprisingly expressive figural forms.

Wayne Paige, Conundrum, oil on canvas, 40” x 30”, 2019.  Photo courtesy of the artist.

Jeffrey Kenny, curator and organizer of exhibitions at the Hylton Center, specifically chose this location—the Science and Technology campus—for Paige’s cautionary tales, hoping to reach the many students who are studying digital media and computer sciences here.  Paige, a long-time educator of high school and community college students, does have an aim with these works specifically to expose something of the danger of the lure of the digital to a youth that has never lived in a world without cell phones and computers.  One painting shows his characters Pondering the Outcome, while another, Conundrum, shows their vulnerability and search for understanding and accommodation, for a way to live a full life in our fast changing world.

Wayne Paige, Changing Landscapes: The Digital Age, Encroachment and Eventual Outcomes, Hylton Performing Arts Center, Buchannan Partners Art Gallery, George Mason University, Science and Technology Campus, 10960 George Mason Cir, Manassas, VA 20110.  August 31–October 10.  Gallery hours: Tues-Sat. 10-6. Tel: 703-993-7550.

[1] Artist’s statement to the exhibit.

[2] Artist’s statement.

Caption for banner image: Wayne Paige, Boxed in Another World, ink on paper, meteorite fragments, 14” x 11” x 1.5”, 2018.  Photo courtesy of the artist.