US Map project.
Daddy-O's giant "Map of the USA," built for the Bicentennial.

The Roadside Art of Daddy-O

Texas

Bob "Daddy-O" Wade (1943-2019) was born in El Paso but spent his youth moving from town to town (His dad was a motel manager). "Growing up all over Texas, I remember seeing all kinds of roadside things," Bob told us. "Big stuff. Incredible imagery on this crazy scale." He cited as inspirations the Happy Halfwit and Giant Longhorn in Dallas, "the sexy gal" (Uniroyal Gal) of El Paso, and his postcard collection of Texas cowpokes riding giant jackrabbits and armadillos. "All this bizarre stuff. It was wonderful."

Smokesax.
"You have to make it big or it won't be seen."

Bob went to college in the 1960s and emerged from the decade as a respected pioneer of cowboy funk art, which often involved taking his old postcards, blowing them up to billboard size, and then hand-painting the enlargements. His first true Roadside-scale work was his 1976 "Map of the USA," a bicentennial "Land Art" project the size of a football field that was inspired, he told us, by similar-style maps on placemats in truck stops.

"There was this really high scaffolding down at the tip of 'Texas.' You'd climb up this little ladder and get the perspective," said Bob. "It was the 1970s. Everything was looser back then."

Properly inspired, Bob went on to create dozens of Roadside-scale artworks, from Lone Star Iguana (1978) to Junk Yard Dog (2006), all of them designed to not only catch your eye but to slap you in the face as you drove by. Bob's work was so unavoidable that he was taken to court by three different municipalities to have it removed, and Bob won all three times with the argument that he was an artist and that what he had created was art, even if to the untrained eye it was just, say, a ten-foot-tall frog wearing a coconut-shell bra.

Lone Star Iguana.

Toward the end of his life, Bob wisecracked that he was so old that his sculptures provided work to art restorers. He continued to pump out creations on a scale that was meant to be noticed, never forgetting the lesson he learned on the Texas highways of the 1950s. "You have to make it big," he said, "or it won't be seen."

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August 13, 2020

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