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Esteemed Woodlawn artist Robert Earl Paige presents vibrant 60-year collection

ROBERT EARL PAIGE describes drawing his iconic pattern “Power to the People” (used in interior decor) in 1968 after leaving the Italian company Fahara when they would not put his name on his work. He insisted to make activist work—in this drawing he saw “all people—a bunch of us’s.” Robert still calls himself a Ghost Artist, as for much of his career this work went uncredited: “A lot of people were unaware, when they closed their curtains and climbed under the bedspread at night that they were living with a work of art,” Photo and post by Salon 94 Design’s Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn. 

The Hyde Park Art Center proudly presents “The United Colors of Robert Earl Paige,” the career-spanning survey of artist, designer, and educator Robert Earl Paige (b. 1936). With multimedia works made between 1964 and 2024, and over 100 personal artifacts, this solo show is the largest presentation of the Chicago native’s work to date, including rarely seen parts of Paige’s collection, inspired by trips to West Africa, Ndebele, South Africa, and Milan, Italy, and it explores the artist’s lifelong quest for beauty and equality.

Raised in the Woodlawn neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, where he still resides, Paige makes artworks in response to the patterns, colors and materials of everyday Black life.

Paige graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and was part of both the Black Arts Movement, as well as the African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists (AfriCOBRA), a Chicago-based group of Black artists who looked to Africa as an essential reference for the African American community.

He playfully challenges the juxtaposition of art and craft in his hand-dyed textiles, cardboard collages, and ceramic tiles to encourage mental and physical liberation for all.

His signature “Power to the People” design motif of half circles building upward and outward in an organized mesh of individuals expresses how simple gestures and lines can depict solidarity.

Some of Paige’s work has come about using simple items, for example, a toilet paper roll that he turned into a stand for his phone.

Paige calls himself a “doodler, tinkerer and dabbler.” As a designer, he’s always trying to think of simple solutions to everyday situations—creating purpose for and finding beauty in something that seemingly has neither.

Paige had stated in Salon 94 Design for a previous installation his views about growing up in Chicago: “When you talk about keeping me ‘in the loop’, you’re talking about downtown Chicago… and we were not permitted in downtown Chicago.” He lived this discrimination, but he refused to be defined by it. Nurtured by an innate sense of beauty and the creative energies of the South Side, Paige has spent his career creating the world he wants to see with a design practice that has become his own personal Gesamtkunstwerk — a ‘total work of art’ encompassing visual art, textile design and, ultimately, life itself.

Curated by Allison Peters Quinn, Director of Exhibition & Residency Programs at the Hyde Park Art Center, the exhibition is on view until October 27.

I spoke with Peters Quinn who shared a bit about the exhibition and the wondrous world of Paige.

For this exhibition, Paige presents a new, colorful hand-woven textile made by The Weaving Mill, which he based on a 1986 drawing by his daughter, Keisha, when she was 9 years old, and she titled it “The United Colors of Robert Paige,” which Paige used for the name.

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ROBERT EARL PAIGE, “Homage to Milano,” 1964, Scarf Silk Screen Print Silk Twill, top left. HPAC logo. Bottom left. Artist Photo: Tom Van Eynde, 2022. Paige’s “Land of Mali,” 1976, Wall Art (Textile), Hand painted and Dyed (Batik) Crepe de Chine Silk. 

Further, the name references the controversial 1980s/90s marketing campaign for the Benetton Clothing Company. Today, the current moment is charged with societal inequities, from women’s rights to healthcare access to ongoing police brutality. “The appropriation of this title for Paige’s exhibition is a call for humankind to come together and create solutions for these systemic issues,” Peters Quinn noted.

She and Paige met about two years ago. “We would see exhibitions together and talk about what worked and what didn’t look good or make sense. Then when it came down to picking work for the show and laying out the work, he told me, ‘I do what I do, you do what you do. Just do what you do’.”

Peters Quinn shared her admiration for Paige and his trust in her. “To have that much faith and trust from an artist in my vision of what makes the work come alive and draw audiences into their work – this relationship allowed the exhibition to be a uniquely creative collaboration.”

I asked about Paige’s unique personal style. Peters Quinn said: “I think Robert came out of the womb wearing a vest and scarf. It’s a part of his personality – to be in presentation form, as he says. He talks about driving a Bentley around Hyde Park in the 1970s and throwing ‘plaid’ parties, where people had to come dressed to impress in plaid. Fabrics and art are the same – they are both creative expressions of his personality and uplifting energy.”

Paige has made his legacy, and he works with youth to nurture their talents.

“He will tell them to ‘follow the work,’ which means, don’t give up and if you don’t like what you did, turn it over and start again,” Peters Quinn added. “There are no mistakes in art for Robert – he practices what he preaches and they see that, as he works to establish mutual respect.”

The exhibition, corresponding public program and upcoming catalog is part of Art Design Chicago, a citywide collaboration initiated by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

“The United Colors of Robert Earl Paige” is made possible with the assistance of Curatorial Research Fellow, Gervais Marsh; Exhibition Assistant, Yeeseon Chae; Exhibitions & Residency Coordinator Tran Tran; Exhibition Designer, Dorian Sylvain and Textile Specialist, Frances Lee.

The Hyde Park Art Center is located at 5020 S. Cornell Ave. Visit for more information.

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