Robert A. Wade is one of the world’s greatest watercolor artists. He’s not a bad golfer, either
Words and interview by Andrew Crockett
Light / Dark
Robert A. Wade’s résumé could fill reams. Now 88, the prolific Aussie has won major art awards in his home country, along with multiple honors in the United States, England and France. His watercolors have been featured in public and private collections worldwide from the Brooklyn Museum in New York to the Bank of Tokyo to the Museum of Watercolor in Mexico City. But what strikes me most about this legendary talent is the life he’s lived combining his two great passions: painting and golf.
Wade was a single-digit handicap for more than 40 years and remains a proud member of the Metropolitan Golf Club in Melbourne. He is quick to point out that, among his many accolades, some of his most cherished honors have been earned in the game. His work has been featured in the clubhouses of major Australian golf clubs, including Royal Melbourne, Royal Adelaide, Kingston Heath and Victoria. It also has graced the walls of the clubhouse at St. Andrews, the Ryder Cup Room at the Wentworth Club in London and the World Golf Hall of Fame & Museum in St. Augustine, Florida. One winter, the USGA used a Wade watercolor for its corporate Christmas card.
It should be no surprise that Wade is not the stereotypical tortured-artist type. He’s spent a life with his two passions and is truly a happy man, generously giving time and money back to charity and other artists. Like his lifelong friends golf legend Peter Thomson and singer Tony Bennett, Wade knows he’s been lucky to share his immense gifts all over the world.
When did you begin painting?
Watercolor began for me in 1936, when I was 6 years old. I was given a coloring-in book for the coronation of King George VI. My little Mickey Mouse palette became my constant companion, so I was never lonely; I’ve always had far too much to paint and never enough hours in the day.
When did you want to make this a career?
From the beginning. My father was an artist. When people used to say to me, “What are you going to be when you grow up, Bobby?” invariably my answer would be, “An artist like my dad.” That never changed.
I won a scholarship to Scotch College in Melbourne and I remember the headmaster looking at my report card and saying, “This is a fine report, Wade. What professional course do you propose to follow after school?” When I replied that I wanted to be an artist, he gave me a look, then continued with a chuckle and said, “We’ll see about that!” I did French, Latin, Greek, English expression, English literature, and at the start of my final year, the headmaster said, “Now another good report, Wade. Have you ultimately decided what you are going to do with your career?” When I said I was still going to be an artist, he shook his head in dismay and said, “We didn’t get that bee out of your bonnet after all.”
When did you get started in golf? In 1948, I came home from school one day and told my dad, “I would really love to play golf!” His brother, my beloved Uncle Bill, organized a game for me at Croydon Golf Club, where he was a member, and as they say in the classics, the rest is history. I’ve been a member at Metropolitan Golf Club since 1952, when I was fortunate enough to be invited to membership. It remains one of my most priceless possessions.
What are some of your best moments in the game?
The first time I played St. Andrews, I finished 4, 4, 4, 4 to break 80 at the Old Course; that was one of my big thrills. To go to all of those places where golf began is very special. America is very golfy, but it is not as traditional as the courses in Britain. Just to go into those old British clubhouses and sniff around, smell the old books, feel the tradition—you can imagine the members coming into the same buildings years ago with their crooked sticks, taking off their periwigs and all that sort of stuff. It really gives me a big buzz.
Which courses do you like to paint?
I like to paint courses that feel as if they have just grown up out of the surrounding country, similar to the old courses in Scotland where they just mowed a bit of grass, put out some tee markers, mowed some more grass, put a pin in a hole and that was it. It is totally natural stuff. In Scotland and Ireland, thinking about all of the rounds that have been played there just makes my spine tingle.
What is so special about watercolor?
I seldom report the fact. The camera can do that! I have an intense dislike of any so-called painting rules that preclude my desire to rearrange my subject. My painting will not be an accurate facsimile of what appears before me; it will be a sincere representation of how I feel about what I see. I want complete freedom to dramatize, romanticize or fanaticize—to do whatever allows me to make my personal statement.
In art we have rare times when our vision extends beyond the normal and everyday. We seem to be on another plane, in another world of creativity and sensitivity that leads us on to seek understanding of the purpose for being what we are.