Robert Earl Paige calls himself “an artist against ugliness.” Sounds simple. This guiding idea, however, has underpinned a repertoire that defies categorization, spanning media and half a century of thought. “People need beauty. They need to be inspired,” says Paige, a pioneer who introduced textiles inspired by West African patterns to American shoppers in the 1970s. On September 16, he will open his first New York solo show, mounted by Salon 94 Design.
Titled “Power to the People,” the exhibition is curated by the noted Nigerian-born British fashion designer Duro Olowu, who was captivated by the experimentation, creativity, and political activism of Paige’s work. Reflecting on that varied creative output, Olowu calls it “important for its use of both historical and contemporary African American art references as well as its respectful and expansive use of international influences, particularly those from the continent.”
For much of his career, Paige was, by his own description, a “ghost artist,” creating work without his name attached. But even if you haven’t heard of him, you’ve likely seen his geometric “Kool-Aid colored” fabrics. Today, he conceives of his practice as a Gesamtkunstwerk, or total work of art, spanning interiors, textiles, and visual art. The S94D show will present a vivid snapshot of those proclivities, with works on paper, collages, and ceramics. The exhibition also marks the debut of textiles and wallpaper—some archival patterns, others from recent years—now exclusively available through S94D.
Paige was raised on Chicago’s South Side, where he continues to live and work. At 86, the artist has long had a foot in decorative arts: He was an interior designer at the architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill before studying textile design at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago under quilt maker Grace Earl. After graduating, Paige found himself at the center of Chicago’s Black Arts Movement, helping to create a new Black design aesthetic that links to many spheres of art and cultural production today. “Chicago was abuzz with creativity, camaraderie, and collaboration,” he has said of that time. “We were on fire.” salon94design.com
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