Fascinated by the durable linen stock and deep ink printing of paper currency, Wagner transforms powerful symbol into mosaics, decorative patterns, and tableaux. By using the old-fashioned practice of collage (the craft of reusing printed elements), Wagner creates pieces that appear to be vintage artworks at first glance.
The dollar bill is rife with symbolism – the Masonic eye, pyramids, fire, and flowers. Wagner plays up these symbols, by casting them against the star of the dollar bill – founding father George Washington. Many pieces poke fun at money – a triptych shows a “money tree,” first rich with dollar leaves, then slowly barren and fruitless. Hundreds of tiny leaf details are arranged together to spell out “Petty Cash” in decorative cursive, while seals from the Department of the Treasury bloom like flowers on a vine. He even transforms the rounded details and Washington heads into a graceful peacock set against a brick pattern made up of the rectangular dollar remnants.
But his most playful pieces are the ones in which he casts president George Washington in an array of madcap situations. George sails on a sea of bills with two clones and tames a lion with his head in its mouth. The most impressive piece is a massive and meticulously detailed collage of the Statue of Liberty with ghosts and Georges running amok, causing chaos and havoc.
Wagner’s work strikes a chord in our troubled economy, which has forced us to consider our own relationship with money and the concepts of freedom and liberty.