élan, November 2006

There was a forest fire in Chester Gap one afternoon, as Wayne Paige drove home from his job teaching in Middleburg. Across the normally verdant Blue Ridge, there was nothing but orange flames, gray smoke, black ash. To Wayne, it looked as though nature was conducting utter devastation within a limited color palette. It impressed him. And almost immediately, a new vocabulary of images came forth from a man who had previously engaged in art as varied as black-and-white photorealism and vivid dreamscapes.

Wayne’s pieces today evoke the playful figure iconography of Keith Haring but promote a philosophy of demise. Clothespin-shaped figures swarm in rivers that suggest crowded interstate highways or cluster upon ragged shapes that call to mind melting Arctic ice. Wayne says his work is meant to remind viewers of everything from global warming to the personal time sacrificed to the daily commute.

Wayne draws in pen and ink, or paints black figures against a pointillist matrix of gray, orange, yellow and black. He calls the pieces desolate. “It’s the encroachment of civilization, the final result of encroachment,” he says.

The clothespin figures, Wayne says, came about because of their simplicity. Clothespins “represent the most primitive form of technology,” he says, and are commonly used to represent people in architectural drawings.”

They also echo the forms of the medieval religious icons that Wayne has collected in a corner of his spartan living quarters in Flint Hill. And that’s intentional. “You’ll see a lot of them with halos around them, ” Wayne says. One triptych, which will be on view during a solo exhibition of Wayne’s work this month, involves a haloed figure at center, flanked by flying figures “worshipping empty works of art”, Wayne says. It is important to him that his pieces convey a message. The walls of Wayne’s home present a history of his work. “This is work that has been done over close to 30 years,” he says.

Educated in his native Chicago before pursuing an advanced degrees in art from The George Washington University, Wayne first explored photorealism working from photographs, in black and white. But energy exploded into his pieces during years teaching city kids in the Washington, D.C. public schools.

The pieces got larger and looser, and the palette opened to magenta, chartreuse, plum, gold. Wayne created primitive papier-mâché frames to enclose pieces with comic book sensibilities. In these pieces, the enemy was an inhumane, urban world from which men and women had to flee. Created in the 1970’s, they bear names like “Killer Warts”, “Pickle Lily’s Rampage” and “Bad Daddy from Baghdaddy”.

The concept of framed work them morphed into pieces enclosed in wood that was sculpted into organic and symbolic shapes, painted in gold and incised with graffiti. In one, six separate panels convey a life cycle, from birth to death, within forms shaped like birds, saucers and shooting stars. This piece is displayed in a space directly downstairs from Wayne’s apartment: the office dentist Stella M. Liong, whose unconventionally decorated treatment rooms are filled with framed art, art glass and antiques.

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