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It was a pleasingly surreal scene: grandiosity meets the mundane, with just a soupcon of post-Soviet decay. from high school in Huntsville, went to A&M for a year, then joined the Air Force and flew a DC-3 back and forth to Paris for a few years, getting his first taste of art and travel. After the Air Force, he got a B.S. in math and physics from Sam Houston State and then went back to Paris to study art at the Atelier Fernand Legier. “I didn’t learn anything,” he said, “but it was great.” Returning to Houston, he and another GI opened an art school, “which promptly failed,” but in the process he got acquainted with the Houston art community, of which he would soon become such a noted part. Adickes’ first major sculpture was “Virtuoso,” a cello-playing floating head and hands in front of the Lyric Centre building in downtown Houston. Then came a giant stone trumpet, the 70-foot Sam Houston, and then three complete sets of the presidential heads. The first collection is in a Presidential Park` in Williamsburg, Va. The second is in a park near Mount Rushmore. The third will be installed at WaterLights Th . “There’s always someone with a pipe dream,” he said. “One guy wanted me to build another Statue of Liberty on the West coast but make her Asian.” Adickes’ art didn’t blow me away, but something else did. It was the way he lived his life. In 1955, he was offered a job teaching at the University of Texas, but he quit after two years because he wanted to travel the world and spend a year in Japan. “I fell in love with Kyoto,” he said. “I found a studio to rent from a famous ceramicist and I told myself, one year in Japan, one year seeing the rest of the world. I lived with a woman and I painted. It was heaven. But then my year was up. I told her I had to go and she said, ‘Arent you happy here?’ and I said, `The happiest I’ve ever been. And she said, ‘Why are you leaving?’ And I said, `I don’t know.” As he said this, he turned his head away and looked up, trapping tears in the wells of his eyes. “I’m sorry,” he said. We waited. “I saw Damascus, Lebanon, Turkey, Constantinople, Cyprus. I spent five weeks in the hospital in Old Delhi. It was a great experience.” To Adickes, every experience was a great one. He traveled, painted, taught, studied, opened a Houston dance club in ’67 called the Love Street Light Circus and Feelgood Machine where ZZ Top had their first performance, sold it, became best friends with James Michener, got married, had a daughter, got divorced, slept in the Lincoln bedroom, got married again, and when he heard his old high school in Huntsville was about to be torn down, he bought it, planning to convert it to studio space. There were no sad stories. There was no bitterness or regret. Adickes was buoyant, fearless, unrepentanteverything an artist should be. The two constants in his life were art and change. He was what my beloved Beat poets might have become if they had been able to sell some books and stay off drugs and grow up. Just then, two girls walked past the metal door of the studio, chatting. Adickes hopped up and stuck his head out. “Hi,” he said. “Are you looking for me? I’m David:’ I couldn’t hear the girls’ reply, but Adickes said, “Oh, okay. I’m sorry,” and withdrew. He looked at his watch and sucked in a little breath. “I have a doctor’s appointment at one, and should eat first.” It was noon. He slipped past me to the radio, turned on NPR, listened for a minute, then turned it off. It felt like we’d compressed a relationship into a couple of hours, like passengers stuck in an elevator overnight. We had both been lost in the story, and now we were back in the roles we’d entered with, and it felt strange. I closed my notebook, feeling like I was hiding a knife. “Would you like to have lunch with me?” Adickes said. “I’d love to,” I said, and I started to put on my coat. He was searching my face, as if he’d forgotten that he didn’t know me, and was now seeing me for the first time. Then he opened the door for me. “I know a little place,” he said, following me out and locking the studio door behind us. “It’s called Chili’s.” Contributing writer Emily DePrang lives in Pearland. JANUARY 23, 2009 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 31