Rappahannock News October 23, 2008

Wayne Paige – “… 0101…”

Steven Kenny

Rappahannock News Oct. 23, 2008

Visit the Middle Street Gallery during the month of November and you will step into the black and white world of Rappahannock artist Wayne Paige. The show’s title, “…0101…” hints at the computerized language and laws governing the landscape we are about to encounter.

But exactly where are we once we enter Paige’s landscape? Looking up we see the inky night sky filled not with familiar starry constellations but regimented patterns of zeros and ones stretching as far as the eye can see. Beneath our feet are dangerous, spiky blades of grass and rounded forms that could be taken for mushrooms. Streams and rivers flow past us without regard for the laws of gravity, emptying into distant seas, which, like the sky, are filled with a myriad, identical floating zeros and ones. The surrounding hills and mountains are densely covered with cookie cutter evergreen trees that resemble ominous versions of air “fresheners” that dangle from many rearview mirrors. On the horizon is an ever-present rising (or setting) moon that more closely resembles a cat’s eye or enormous, predatory shark fin.

Furthermore, who are we? Judging by our fellow two-dimensional beings our bodies have been streamlined to the extent that we are only head, torso and footless legs. Those familiar with his earlier work recognize these figures as Paige’s apparently mindless “clothespin” humanoids.

In these compelling drawings Paige, a lifelong surrealist, uses his masterly drawing skills to render a vision of the future where technology has come to dominate and restructure all existence. Wielding only an ultra-fine Micron pen Paige spends many hours creating each of these highly detailed, meticulous scenes. Each artwork in this show could be a nightmarish vision of a computer’s motherboard comes horribly to life.

“The Committee,” depicted on the postcard announcement for this exhibition, shows a group of clothespin people stooping to inspect endless streams of zeros and ones on their way to the ocean. One gets the sense that whatever judgment they eventually pass will have been determined in advance by some unseen entity and which they are unwilling, and even powerless, to change.

Paige hints at some grand designer behind all this, but it isn’t any god we are familiar with. In “Worshipping at the Unresolved Miracle” we see a masonry pillar with a circular halo floating above it. Many clothespin worshippers bow down in obeisance but the shrine that they worship at is a symbolic reflection of the mutated landscape around them.

The title of the drawing “0 as 1” has the ring of Orwellian newspeak. We peer over the shoulders of some inhabitants as they look upon a scene of their compatriots swimming toward, and becoming absorbed into, a monolithic, glowing zero and one. No one here is an individual in Paige’s view. You are simply part of the whole. No need to think or feel. Nature is programmed and your duty is to blend in or stoically sacrifice yourself if required. 

Perhaps the most poignant piece in the show is “Rebirth of a Nation.” Here we see one black and one white figure. They could represent the male and female halves of a couple yet each is pregnant. These are x-ray depictions and their gestating offspring are visible to us. However, they are not carrying humanoid, infant “clothespins” as we would expect but fetal zeros and ones. Paige’s populace has given itself over entirely to “the cause” and become a communal factory intent on evolving into a computerized machine. 

Paige’s choice of a black and white palette is brilliant. This is a world of sharp edges, abrupt contrasts and no choices. There is no place for the subtle emotional qualities of color. Yet Paige is a master at creating suspense and feelings of hopelessness and dread.  

Like the unseen master of his visual universe, Paige is in complete control here. He has considered and manipulated every detail of this exhibition. The larger drawings have identical dimensions and the prices reflect the title and theme of the show. The large drawings (including tax) are $1,010. And the smaller pieces can be had for $101.