Gettin’ down and dirty with artist Scott Wade

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Photo Credit: Robin Wood.

Meet the Lord of the Dust–in fact the Da Vinci of Dust, the Michelangelo of Mud, the . . . well, meet the Dirty Car Artist.

Scott Wade has traveled to numerous places around the globe, from Istanbul to London, from Mexico to Toronto and more, and has been featured in or on multiple television shows, magazines and websites from around the world, including the History Channel’s program, Modern Marvels. Plus, people from other parts of the planet are thrilled to travel where he is “painting” to get an interview, as this outtake of a German television show demonstrates.

Although we’ll be happy to give more details later on, here is where the rubber meets the road. Scott is renowned for taking the ugly dust that layers itself on top of car windows in certain climates and conditions and turning this crud into remarkable pieces of art.

“It can take up to two weeks,” he says, “for enough dust to collect to create a good canvas, and then I get to transform something that’s usually perceived as ugly – a dirty car–into a thing of beauty.”

Atlanta Driver. Photo credit: Robin Wood.

Atlanta Driver. Photo credit: Robin Wood.

“People’s response to my art is almost universally positive,” Scott says, “partly because it is so unexpected. Most peoples’ reaction to dirt is to wash it off, to get everything clean, and I do something quite different. As time passed, Scott began diversifying, which includes painting storefront windows. Pretty amazing stuff, isn’t it? Although Scott’s art can be found online fairly easily, the information about him as an artist is limited. So, we decided to find out more…

 

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Austin Storefront. Photo Credit: Nicole Zinn.

Birth of an artist

When Scott was young–young enough that he can’t pinpoint an exact age–he remembers using his finger to draw pictures on a dirty car window, something that plenty of other youngsters have done. “When I was a child,” Scott says, “we lived in Colorado, so I had more opportunities to doodle on frosty windows than in dust, but I did both.”

And, even though Scott didn’t consciously begin enjoying artwork until the third grade, he was always surrounded by joyful art. His father was a talented amateur cartoonist in the “Dick Tracy style.” And, every Christmas, Scott says, “my father would draw holiday images like Santa Claus, a wreath with candles, Rudolph and so forth. He’d copy his drawings at work and then make coloring books for all of the neighborhood kids.”

Then, third grade hit. “Mom bought me a book about Frosty the Snowman,” he explains. “I really liked the way the trees looked, so I got some paper and a pencil, and then I started to draw. I got a lot of encouragement from my mother and friends, while my father helped me with shading and perspective.”

As a young adult, Scott pursued a degree in art from Texas State University. After graduation (in 1982), he began playing music for a living, drumming in a wide variety of genres: country western, rock and roll, reggae, the blues – wherever he was needed. He also took on temporary jobs and illustrated menus, signs, album covers, posters and flyers on a freelance basis.

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Kate and William, Photo Credit: Robin Wood.

“But,” he says, “I resisted having a computer for a long time. I knew that, if I got one, it would take over everything. Then, one day, Mom showed up at my house with my sister’s old Mac. My wife then got Photoshop 3 on 8 floppy disks, and that was that.”

He then began transitioning into more traditional graphic designer jobs. Currently, he is the senior GUI designer for AirStrip in San Antonio, Texas.

Whoa, back up . . .

What about the dirty car art? How does that fit in?

Well, by that point in his life, Scott lived by a long dirt road in Texas, where the limestone and clay in the dust clung to car windows, making the glass nearly opaque. “Cars were always dirty,” he says. “Washing them was futile, as they’d be dirty again the next day. And, thanks to the influence of my father, I would draw funny faces in the dirt with my finger. I’d try to shade parts of the drawings with the pads of my fingers and use my nails to create finer lines.”

Then, about 10 years ago, Scott was gnawing on a Popsicle stick and, when he removed it from his mouth, he looked at the feathery texture and wondered what would happen if he brushed the chewed-up end of the stick against a dirty car window. What he saw intrigued him, and so he headed inside to get his brushes–and that changed his life dramatically. This was, in fact, step one of his becoming the Dirty Car Artist.

Although, at first glance, what Scott does seems like a quirky form of art, he says it isn’t, not really. “This medium is almost like any other,” he explains. “The shadow inside the car is dark, while the limestone and clay mixture is light. So, there is natural contrast between light and dark and I work off of that contrast.”

Scott began attracting attention from other drivers as he drove in a vehicle featuring his art, causing his curiosity about dirty car art to grow. As a consequence, he began experimenting to see how far he could push this medium.

Media attention

Scott would photograph the windshield art that he’d created and then email those photos to friends, who would sometimes pass them onto other people. Through this form of communication, he attracted the attention of Austin American-Statesman writer John Kelso, who’d gotten a forwarded message from someone on Scott’s email list. Kelso, a longstanding humorist for the publication, wanted to profile Scott and his art in one of his columns. “My mom lives in Austin,” Scott tells Advance Auto Parts, “so I figured, great! Mom will like to read the article.”

In conjunction with the publication of the article, several photos of Scott’s art appeared on the Austin American-Statesman website. The next morning, he received a call from the publication’s photo editor who told him that his photos were “going viral.” Now, this was several years ago, remember. “I didn’t even know what ‘going viral’ meant,” Scott admits, with a laugh. “It ends up that 200,000 bloggers had linked to my photos in just one hour!”

San Antonio River Bridge. Photo Credit: Robin Wood.

Shortly after that, the National Enquirer contacted Scott and included a full-page spread of his art in their tabloid; Ripley’s Believe it or Not topped that media attention with a two-page spread and the momentum just kept building.

He began appearing on television shows and participating in magazine and newspaper photo shoots, and they always wanted – naturally enough – to see him in action with a brush. Being a gracious guy, he always complied. When one particular television crew showed up, though, cameras in hand, it was raining.

A problem solver at heart, he quickly came up with Plan B. The system that he developed to solve this situation and other ones like it involves cleaning the dirt off of a piece of glass (ironic, isn’t it?) and then coating the glass with almond oil; safflower oil, peanut oil and the like just didn’t work as well as the almond. He then creates a canvas with a material used as dirt on television shows and in movies. To apply the material, he simply uses a blow dryer designed to dry hair, and then the dust-like particles stick to the oil.

How long does the dirt art last?

A piece of artwork created on a windshield only lasts until the vehicle is out in the rain. And, many times after Scott takes a photograph of a completed piece of art, he simply washes the decorated dust off, calling that one of his favorite parts of the process. Keep on reading to find out why.

Spiritual Connection

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Bulldog. Photo Credit: Scott Wade

In more than one of Scott’s interviews found online, he briefly mentions how the temporary nature of his art emphasizes the spiritual notion of enjoying today, as nothing lasts forever.

Wanting to know more, we asked Scott to elaborate on that idea. Did he hold that philosophy before he began his car art, or was it developed because of his car art? Scott pauses before responding with, “A little bit of both.”

He continues with, “I’ve always been interested in spirituality, in philosophy, in examining religions and belief systems. What I’ve done with dirty cars has given me a much better understanding of the nature of the world, and how things that arise out of form are only temporary. Even the world’s greatest monuments, as we speak, are crumbling and becoming dust again.”

This knowledge has affected Scott in multiple ways. “First,” he says, “I’m humbled. And, I don’t take my art quite so seriously.”

Other artists, he says, are puzzled by this attitude, wondering how he doesn’t identify with his art more significantly and how he can comfortably watch the rain wash his art away – or even hose it off the glass himself! “I understand that point of view,” Scott says, “and I can sympathize with it. But, there is so much more to be gained by simply allowing the art to be gone. Through my ephemeral art form, I have learned that very great lesson. I can now focus on opening my eyes to the beauty of the moment, allow that moment to pass – and then be completely open to the very next moment.”

 

Editor’s note: while we admire and appreciate Scott’s work, we also offer a wide selection of car cleaning products to help you keep your ride looking right. Buy online, pick up in store.

Comments

  1. This is stellar. I’d love to meet him since my car stays filthy.

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