Mr. Big

Houston sculptor David Adickes has one message for the art world: large is good

"I'm of the World War II generation," he says. "They blew the bugle and we all went. I don't think you'd find that today. It was a different period and everybody was sort of united. The world is just a different place today. Its values are falling by the wayside so fast."

Before Big Sam, Adickes' best-known sculpture was a larger-than-life bronze of former President George Bush that was displayed at the 1992 Republican Convention and will eventually end up at the Bush Library on the Texas A&M campus. Adickes has known Bush for almost 30 years, and the Bushes had a painting of his in the White House. Adickes was invited to the White House and spent the night in the Lincoln bedroom.

He took a series of photographs of Bush for the sculpture, which depicts a young Bush with his suit jacket flung over his shoulder. Both jacket and necktie are blown back by an almost gale-force wind. Bush carries a book titled The Winds of Change, which alludes to the collapse of communism during his presidency. Being blown by the wind doesn't seem like a very heroic theme, but Adickes is ebullient about the piece. He's especially proud of the song he has composed for a 60-voice chorus that he hopes will be sung when the statue is dedicated at the Bush Presidential Library. In an early draft, the lyrics went like this: "The winds of change are whispering 'Freedom' / The shifting of clouds, the shadows they cast / 'Freedom' is more than just a word to say / The truth is: it is anything but free, to / Keep it, there is a heavy price to pay, for / 'Freedom' is anything but free."

Admission to what Adickes would like to see as his next project won't be free either. He wants to build a franchisable theme park of American heroes; Adickes would make gigantic heads of American presidents with rubber molds, so that they could be reproduced and trucked to sites around the country. "Mount Rushmore on the ground is the idea," he says, "so you would be very intimate with these big faces."

Local heroes would be added according to the site. "Like one in Atlanta would include, obviously, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis, Martin Luther King and other American heroes that are locally oriented," he says. If Adickes is aware of any incongruities in this lineup in what is now a majority black city, he doesn't let on. As for women and people of color, he has a firm sense of whose sense of history would rule:

"This cannot be politically correct and represent all colors and sexes and what not," he says. "It's to be founded on historic facts: who were the most important people in the history of America. If there is a black in there, and Martin Luther King is one, then of course he would be included, but not just for the sake of blacks in there. And the decisions would be mine to make."

The winds of change are indeed blowing. Chances are, Adickes will never get a chance to build his Atlanta theme park without being a little more conscious of public relations, not to mention history. (Jefferson Davis was from Mississippi).

But Adickes isn't likely to become mired in such distinctions. He's far more focused on the theme that bigger is better. Big produces recognition, popularity and more commissions. It also produces a kind of permanence, one of Adickes' favorite values. He believes his paintings will last, but of course, he says, "history" will tell. Paintings last only when people continue to see something in them and keep them on display. A 30-ton sculpture, though, especially one built to withstand 500 mile-an-hour winds -- well, that can't easily be taken down and put into the closet.

If there were a sculpture of David Adickes somewhere, it would be subtitled "a tribute to optimism." There is something charming and corny and naive about him. At his Montrose townhouse and studio he is delving into his new projects and wrapping up old ones. Incongruously tucked behind his front patio fence stands the eight-foot-high bronze of George Bush, waiting to be delivered. A huge smiling head is also tucked inside the wall. He has a 28-foot-tall sculpture of a woman sitting in pieces that he wants to put on display somewhere in Houston.

He's relieved that the turmoil of dedicating the Sam Houston sculpture is over. Now he can turn to bigger dreams. He has more on his mind than traveling presidents, giant cowboys, giant sheiks and giant philanthropists, though. What about the Colossus of Rhodes? he muses. This wonder of the ancient world was a gigantic bronze on a hillside looking out from this Greek island. Perhaps the present government would like to restore its former glory.

The Colossus was thought to have bestrode the entrance to the harbor, so that ships had to sail under it. Engineering difficulties aside, the upward view as a ship sails between the behemoth's legs might be a public relations problem. Surely Adickes is not thinking of having his sculpture straddle the harbor?

Adickes gives one of his enigmatic smiles, like that on the gigantic head outside his front door. He is not ruling anything out. That is, after all, a prerequisite when you think big.

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