In Fort Worth, Artist Bob Wade is Somehow Making Armadillos Look Awesome

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Inside Fort Worth's William Campbell Contemporary these days you'll find Texas, where even the armadillos have a Technicolor glow. Specifically you'll find Cowgirls and Critters, breakneck kitsch so shrewdly transformed into lively contemporary art that you can imagine the artist, Austin's Bob "Daddy-O" Wade, with a Velvet Elvis on one shoulder and the ghost of Robert Rauschenberg on the other.

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Wade is the artist who created the legendary Dancing Frogs at Carl's Corner in Hillsboro, the World's Largest Cowboy Boots in San Antonio, and the 40-foot iguana at the Fort Worth Zoo. Stretching an image of a Texas we can only wish was real into something giant and eerily convincing has long been a revered form of Texas-specific visual culture.

Wade airbrushes acrylic onto black-and-white digital enlargements of postcard photos he finds in our great state's deeper pockets of tacky. Our dewy subjects for this exhibition include ponies, monkeys, lizards, the aforementioned armadillo, and the glorious cowgirls of the title.

Wade has a long history of collaboration for the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame and Museum, also in Fort Worth. Though the cowgirls are romanticized by the artificial-flavoring of Wade's airbrushed pastels, they could clearly kick your ass without much effort. The works look like still shots of Hollywood Westerns, with an emphasis on the Hollywood part (one is entitled "Holly Would").

You can see a pretty cowgirl ride a horny toad in "Let'er Rip," an homage to a real horny toad really named Rip who really was famous in early 20th century Texas. Yes, the sexual innuendo is intentional. Wade seems to have ventured into painting to turn John Ford classics into naughty and fantastical comedies where everyone has a retro-sounding nickname in quotation marks (mine would be "Lank.")

The infamous Dogs Playing Poker gets the Wade treatment as well, with an inspiring addition to its canine ensemble: Hope, the abandoned stray found in Weatherford earlier this year who endured horrific abuse and survived. A portion of the proceeds from each of the dog-related works in the show will go to the Saving Hope Foundation, which helps abused and neglected dogs find safe, happy homes. When I saw the exhibition on the second day of its run, every one of those works had been sold. Well done, Fort Worth.

"Bob "Daddy-O" Wade: Cowgirls & Critters" runs through November 21, 2012, at William Campbell Contemporary Art in Fort Worth.

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