Monday, July 14, 2008

Big in Texas: Bob "Daddy-O" Wade

Bob Wade is a Texas artist whose 40-year multimedia career ranges from the ridiculous out-size sculpture of a pair of giant ostrich-feather boots at a San Antonio mall, to the sublimely hand-colored postcard images of of wild-west cowgirls. Inspired by the exploding pop-art scene of the 1960s and stints at the University of Texas and Berkeley, Wade returned to Austin and discovered that "the Austin counterculture had finally taken off": the funky mix of artists and musicians that the city relishes to this day in its unofficial slogan, "Keep Austin Weird."

Wade's book, Daddy-O: Iguana Heads and Texas Tales, is a careening ride through the artist's Texas hill country and the even wilder art scenes of New York and California that followed. His early experiments were funded more by bursts of inspiration and civic pride than business sense: as Wade puts it, "I took on the persona of artist turned Texas-style land developer wheeler-dealer." The Bicentennial Map of The United States was a huge 3-D project, three hundred feet wide:

We mailed a letter to every state chamber of commerce asking them to send anything we could associate with each state. Louisiana and a bunch of others sent flags, which waved in the breeze. One business agreed to build us an outhouse and asked us where to put it. Since we had nothing from Arkansas we put the outhouse there. Soon after, we received an irate letter from the Arkansas chamber of commerce. I told them to send a check for $1500 and we'd move the outhouse to Oklahoma.

The next year there was the Texas Mobile Home Museum exhibited at the 1977 Paris Biennale: a rolling, chromed Texasmobile stuffed with cultural artifacts, tricked out with a pair of steer horns mounted on the front.

The Boots,1979

Wade's self-made career -- the Texas wheeler-dealer with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts -- has been a succession of larger-than-life commissions and personal visions. His website contains a section simply labeled "Weird." But he is far from beyond passing up a chance at promoting simple civic boosterism or outsize advertising, Texas-style. The Biggest Pair of Cowboy Boots in the World, originally an installation in an empty lot three blocks from the White House, were eventually purchased by the Rouse Company to grace the North Star Mall in San Antonio.

Then there is Wade's giant iguana, forty feet long and twelve feet wide, that found its way to a New York rooftop. From its perch overlooking 52nd Street at The Lone Star Cafe, the iguana saw a large part of the Austin scene as it made its way to New York. Because the Parsons School of Design was directly across the street from the Lone Star (and several floors above the sculpture) the iguana became a favorite sketching subject. Of course, as with many extraordinary things in New York, the forty-foot iguana became a cause for concern.

The city of New York finally declared the Iguana to be a sign, and as a sign it broke various codes to which signs are subject -- not attached properly, incorrect permits, and flammability. This went on even though I appeared in court as "the artist" as opposed to "the signmaker." Numerous "art" experts appeared in court, including a former member of Art Park's advisory staff and a curator from the Brooklyn Museum of Art. ... On November 4, 1979, the judge found in favor of the Lone Star Cafe, declaring the Iguana not a sign but a bona fide work of art.

"It was in the Texas towns of Waco, Beaumont, Galveston, San Antonio, El Paso, and Marfa that I learned the ways of the 'Texas Myth," Wade says. "Gigantism, outrageous humor, and exaggerations still play a big part in my life." The book is a continual succession of outrageous "can you beat this?" bar-room tales. No doubt Wade got a kick from the jacket copy to Daddy-O, which features quotes from Willie Nelson, former Texas governor Ann Richards, and Prince Albert of Monaco. And somewhere Wade's giant Iguana -- once the toast of the Lone Star, then eventually banished from sight in yet another city litigation -- must be taking a well-deserved nap, getting ready for his next appearance.

For more information and a gallery of Bob's combination of "cross-pollination of border-town kitsch, commercial roadside eyesores, and sideshow curiosity," visit Daddy-O's site: As the Texas Kid would say, "If it's fer ya, it's fer ya. If it ain't fer ya, it ain't fer ya." You decide.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for all your kind words, you really captured the feeling of the book, call if you ever get to Austin .... Bob