Think Space: Bob “Daddy-O” Wade
Bob “Daddy-O” Wade
Fifty years into his career, this prolific artist shows no signs of slowing down.
by Rickie Windle
Photographs by Hayden Spears
It’s not really a rat’s nest. A functional iguana’s nest is more accurate. It’s the working space of multimedia artist Bob “Daddy-O” Wade. With decades of successful, cutting-edge, popular art in his pocket, Wade continues to create and innovate from his studio and storage spot near the first of the 99ish steps up Mount Bonnell. “Cluttered” is the immediate impression you get stepping into the multi-room studio on one side of Wade’s stylish home. With half a century of creation, two decades of which have been based in this spot, Wade has built up quite the collection. Included in those works are weirdly iconic 40-foot iguanas, cowgirls from the early 1900s, giant cowboy boots and dancing frogs.
“I hold on to stuff,” Wade says. It’s a space that he cherishes, and one that sought him out. Wade was living the comfortable Santa Fe artists’ enclave life. But a realtor friend, Phyllis, intermittently sent Wade and his wife, Lisa, notes on available homes in Austin now and then. Phyllis understood the need for an artist’s creative space; her husband is the Texas literary giant Gary Cartwright.
Phyllis coaxed Wade with the enigmatic line — “There’s this house . . .” —one spring break. The Wades grudgingly agreed to stop by. What they saw was stunning. The garage was the perfect size for stretching out Wade’s canvasses. An adjacent carport needed a little enclosing to be transformed into the ideal storage spot. To top it off, a plant potting room in the back would be a lovely nook for his painting and paint mixing.
“I have been a lucky man for quite a while, and God had a hand in it,” Wade says of his find. To a visitor, the studio might seem like the debris of a creative explosion. But Wade says he has a general idea of where everything is. His saving grace is Lisa, who is well suited to help: she’s an archaeologist. “I’ll be looking for something and she’ll say, ‘This right here?’ and pull it out,” Wade says.
When asked to pick the singular most important object in the morass, he unhesitatingly heads to a stuffed iguana overseeing the room from one pile. This 1978 relic was the foundation for a series of art pieces — everything from a casting for a New York restaurant that made national news for years (over legal art-or-signage wranglings) to The Iguana Mobile. What the hell is an Iguana Mobile? An Airstream trailer with a reptile head and tail and saddle, of course.
“I didn’t want to do an armadillo,” Wade says. “I’ve always been keeping things weird.” The 40-foot iguana for the roof of New York’s Lone Star Cafe became a court battle and publicity machine. “A judge finally said, ‘He has his degree in art from Cal Berkeley, it’s art,’” Wade says, chortling.
Today, the iguana lives atop the Fort Worth Zoo animal hospital. Wade is no Austin art-scene interloper. He’s a grad of an El Paso high school, the Dallas Oak Cliff 1960s art community, and the University of Texas and Austin’s 1970s Cosmic Cowboy scene.
A local example of his work can be found on Lamar Boulevard near Sixth Street at Shoal Creek Saloon. The prototype consisted of rounded pieces of plastic, cobbled together with tape after a few Shoal Creek beers. That semi-formed piece became the New Orleans Saints football helmet sculpture adorning the Saloon.
Aside from a dedicated studio for his artwork, Wade says there’s no need to further divide his art, life and business.
“If I have a pocket full of receipts at the end of the day, they [involve] my work,” he says. “What I do all day long is pretty much art.” One corner of his space boasts fluttering Post It notes with thoughts and quotes from over the decades. Wade says some of them come after six beers and he finds them pretty good the next day. Some Lisa deems written “after seven beers.”
There’s a quote amongst them that says retirement is when you look up and have the time to actually read all the books you’ve collected. Wade’s books are hardly well thumbed. “Artists don’t retire,” he said.
For more info on Bob “Daddy-O” Wade visit: bobwade.com
Chances are you’ve seen Bob “Daddio” Wade’s art around town. Here’s a short list:
Rattlesnake sculpture (outside) and Cowboy Band painting (inside) of Ranch 616
Giant Fish in the water at Hula Hut
Saints Helmet at Shoal Creek Saloon
Two-headed longhorn at County Line on Bee Caves Rd
Taco Bus at El Arroyo 5th St.
HOG sculpture at South Austin Museum of Popular Culture
Read more from the Arts Issue | November 2016