Born in 1943 in Austin, Robert S. Wade grew up ricocheting around the Texas landscape as the son of a hotel manager whose work took the family from Galveston to San Antonio to Abilene, even to Marfa during the filming of the James Dean classic “Giant.” He fell in with hot rod culture as a high schooler in El Paso, often crossing the border to Juarez for custom work on his ’51 Ford. From 1961 to 65 he attended the University of Texas Austin where he studied with Charles Umfauf and Robert Levers, then went on to University of California Berkeley for graduate work, where he was aligned with the West Coast “Funk” movement. Returning to Texas, Wade taught first in Waco, then in Dallas, where a trade school called the Northwoods Institute started an unlikely art department that also counted the pioneering land artist Robert Smithson among its instructors. Wade became associated with Jim Roche, Jack Mims, and George T. Green, a group of contemporary Dallas artists collectively designated by a Newsweek magazine writer as “The Oak Cliff Four.” In 1971, Dave Hickey brought the “Four” together with Austin graphic artists Gilbert Shelton and Jim Franklin in a seminal show at St. Edwards University called “South Texas Sweet Funk.” Throughout the early ‘70s, Wade created a series of monumental installation pieces drawing upon a sense of Texas regional identity and pride, using such materials as cowboy boots, salt licks, plastic bluebonnets, and taxidermied desert animals. The bigger-is-better approach reached its apex in 1976 with an ephemera-filled outdoor “map” of the United States the size of a football field just outside of Dallas. He also began to develop a technique for delicately hand-tinting photo-emulsions of nostalgic Texas images applied to large canvasses. In the decades since, Wade has received countless commissions to make monumental sculpture and colorful views of vintage Texana from his home base in Austin.
Notes: Pete Gershon interviewed Bob Wade at his home in Austin on June 9, 2019. Daddy-o is one of the coolest cats on the planet--a funny, warm, engaging interview subject if there ever was one. Here he speaks in detail about his childhood and young adulthood in Texas; the early Dallas gallerist Chapman Kelly; his rarely-discussed term at the experimental Northwoods Institute; and his Houston associations including the creation of two 1970s installation pieces: “Map of Texas” at the University of St. Thomas Art Gallery and “Texas Star” at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (1974). He draws insightful distinctions between Dallas’s art scene and Houston’s. Video and audio for this episode are about as good as it gets for this project. All archival images courtesy Bob Wade.
This project was funded in part by the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance