Leader of the Pack
From building businesses to painting in his award-winning studio, artist Chad Little makes his mark.
By Rebecca L. Rhoades | Photography by Mark Lipczynski
It’s a warm early-winter afternoon, and Chad Little is hard at work in his Paradise Valley studio, a sleek glass-and-steel building attached to the home he shares with his wife, Sophia, and their three rescue dogs, Max, Sasha and Geo. Bi-parting sliding doors on the structure’s west-facing side are open, allowing the day’s gentle breezes to waft in and fill the space with the fresh fragrance of the surrounding desert. The setting sun casts rays of golden light across a large canvas that Chad is framing. He is preparing for a solo show and charity fundraiser that will take place onsite the following evening.
It wasn’t that long ago, however, that the artist was working in a completely different environment: tech startups. As the founder of Hivewyre, FetchBack and other locally based, Silicon Valley-embraced businesses, Chad was a highly regarded entrepreneur and CEO. But the need for a simpler pace and the desire for a solo enterprise led him to try his hand at painting, a skill in which he had no training or experience.
“I always had art in my blood—or at least creativity,” Chad explains. “Even when I was an entrepreneur, the part I enjoyed most was the creative side of the business. I started five companies over the years, and it was always about ‘what’s the next problem to be solved’ and ‘what can we create.’ I never had as much fun once it was up and going because that wasn’t where the challenge was.
“I realized that, at 50, I only have so many ticks in the heart left, so I wanted to at least dive in and see if I could [be a painter]. Plus, I’m an introvert, so I thought it would be nice to do something that was solely my own creation versus a collective. Put me in a room, let me slather paint on a canvas, and leave me alone,” he adds, only half-jokingly.
In just two years, Chad has become a formidable force in the Valley’s art scene. His representational mixed media and oil works have garnered praise from art collectors and critics alike. Rendered in soft midcentury shades—avocado greens, harvest golds, browns, pinks and pastel blues—the paintings, mostly figures and faces, recall the innocence and wonder of decades past. Women in vintage bathing suits frolic on the beach; a young boy in a Lone Ranger mask poses with his BB gun; an elderly man in a cowboy hat gazes longingly at an unseen horizon. The images are intimate and candid, their lines loose and random and their colors faded, like age-worn photographs found tucked away in the back of a small-town antique store.
“I love great vintage photographs—the family shots that catch somebody off guard,” says Chad, who uses old pictures as inspiration for his art.
“It’s a mood that jumps off the canvas,” adds Sophia.
Amy Lofgren agrees. She and her husband, Nils, own several of Chad’s paintings, and they recently purchased one of his larger pieces, “Betty and the Birds,” which features a woman dressed in a ’50s-style pink outfit, surrounded by flamingos, on a distressed mint green and brown background. “I watched him create it on Instagram, and I thought, ‘I’d love to have that’,” she says. “I’m not a big fan of birds, and I don’t know who Betty is, but it was just amazing.” The nostalgic piece hangs on an original adobe wall in their 1931 home.
“I’m looking forward to buying more of Chad’s artwork in the years to come,” Lofgren continues. “I think he’s massively talented.”
For Chad, finding a perfect place to practice his art took some time. In 2011, he and Sophia purchased a 1954 home on a corner lot in the shadow of Camelback Mountain. “We had been looking for a contemporary home,” says Sophia, who notes that the couple wasn’t in a rush to move. About eight months into their search, while on a business trip, Sophia was browsing real estate sites when she came across the newly listed house. “I sent the listing to Chad and said ‘I think this is us,’” she remembers. “We looked at it on a Friday, and we put in a full-price offer on Saturday.” They spent the next couple of years remodeling.
Black painted concrete flooring was ground down to reveal the natural aggregate; bathrooms were completely renovated; and busy stone countertops were replaced with streamlined concrete. In the entry hallway, concrete artisan Cody Carpenter fashioned a “floating” gallery wall.
“I came up with a simple solution of creating 4-foot-wide sectioned panels that are screwed to the wall using decorative attachments and fasteners,” says Carpenter, who notes that “gray is a great backdrop for colorful art.” A picture rail that runs the length of the wall allows the Littles to display Chad’s works or pieces from their personal collection.
The home’s south-facing elevation is glass. “When I walk downstairs from the bedroom in the morning, the first thing I see is this stunning view of Camelback Mountain, and it makes me smile to know that we live in a city with such beautiful scenery,” says Sophia. “I feel very fortunate to be able to take over the stewardship of this property.”
When Chad first began painting, he created a studio in one of the home’s spare bedrooms, but the space was too small and lacked the proper lighting he needed. He consulted with fellow Valley artist Fred Tieken, who had a stand-alone studio/gallery constructed in his backyard. “He said if you can do something on your own property, do it, because you’re not going to want to travel every time you get the urge to paint,” Chad recalls.
Carpenter suggested he reach out to architect Thamarit Suchart to design the project.
“As an artist, Chad understands our own artistry, so he let us have free rein, and I think that yielded the best project in the end,” says Suchart. The 1,400-square-foot minimalist addition extends southward from the home’s garage. Clad in weathered steel panels with expanses of mirrorlike glass walls, it complements and contrasts with the stucco and glass of the original structure.
“We weren’t trying to kid anyone into thinking that this isn’t a new addition, so we celebrated that fact by approaching it very differently from a material standpoint,” notes the architect. “The rusted iron oxide color is all around us. It’s present in the soil, the dirt and the mountains. We didn’t paint it tan to match the presumed desert color. We looked at the environment around us and drew from the palette that already existed before any of the houses were built there. We made it something that’s of and appropriate for our desert environment.”
To minimize the impact on the landscape, the architects designed the studio to “float” above an existing wash. Six 36-inch concrete caissons, buried 10 feet into the ground, support the building. Floor-to-ceiling bi-parting doors, situated above the wash, slide open to allow views of the landscaping as well as a circular fire pit with seating. “When it rains, water flows underneath the studio,” says Chad. “It’s kind of cool.” A cluster of caissons at varying heights serves as entry stairs, their circular forms in sharp contrast to the straight lines and precise angles of the addition. “They’re like pieces of sculpture, but you happen to be able to walk on them,” remarks Suchart.
Inside, the space is open and bright. Three movable partitions on casters allow for spatial diversity and increased wall surface for hanging art. When not needed, they can be stored in the attached garage. “It works out great, because Chad can have this big open space, and he can have paint flying everywhere and the dog covered in red oil because it brushed up against one of his works,” says Sophia with a laugh.
From business startups to home remodels, building a studio to developing an art career, Chad is always seeking out new challenges and opportunities for creativity. “That’s one of my biggest strengths—and also my biggest weakness. I always want to see what’s next and find out if I can do it,” he says. “But in the context of just getting started, I’m happy with where I’ve been and with what Sophia and I have been able to do so far, and that’s largely due to our partnership together.”
For more information, see Sources.
Art with Heart
Just a few short years ago, Arizona had the distinction of being one of the worst states in the nation to be a homeless pet. Valley shelters were overrun with lost and unwanted dogs and cats, a majority of which ended up being put down. In fact, in 2010, the state had the second-highest euthanasia rate in the country. Thanks to aggressive spay-neuter initiatives, however, that number has dropped significantly—upwards of 80 percent. But there is still a lot of work to be done.
“When you domesticate an animal, you take away its ability to care and defend for itself,” says Sophia Little. “So you have an enormous responsibility—everyone does—to make sure that that animal is cared for in a dignified manner.”
Sophia and her artist husband, Chad, are longtime philanthropic animal lovers. She has volunteered with numerous pet-related charities in and around Phoenix. He has donated large portions from the sale of his artworks to these same organizations; a recent gallery event at his home studio raised almost $17,000 that was earmarked for spay-neuter programs at the Arizona Humane Society. Together, the couple established SkinnyPigs Foundation, which provides funds and services to “boots-on-the-ground” causes here and in Costa Rica, where they own a second home. “I would say that 70 percent to 80 percent of the money we put to work so far has been around spay-neuter efforts,” says Chad.
Next up for the couple is AHS’s signature fundraising event, Compassion with Fashion. Celebrating its 21st year, this annual lunch event features a designer fashion show presented by My Sister’s Closet and Well Suited, silent and live auctions, and a raffle of 16 adoptable pets. New in 2019 are custom dream pet houses, crafted by some of the Southwest’s top homebuilders, that will be available as part of the silent auction.
“Last year we raised almost $1.2 million,” says Ann Siner, who along with her sister Tess Loo co-chairs the event and provides the outfits for the fashion show. “To net that amount for a luncheon is really great. But now we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to exceed that this year.” Sophia is involved with Compassion with Fashion as a member of AHS’s Circle of Friends, which raises funds specifically earmarked to cover the costs of spay-neuter surgeries.
“We spay or neuter more than 16,000 animals each year. That includes pets in our shelter and also in public clinics, where we offer vouchers for the procedures,” says Nancy Mitchell, Individual Giving Manager for AHS. “Circle of Friends is critical to everything we do because the fewer animals that are being born out in the community, the better it is for us and them. Our euthanasia rates have come down considerably in recent years, and spay-neuter is the key to that.”
Compassion with Fashion: In Pursuit of Dreams takes place March 31 at the Camelback Inn Resort and Spa. For additional information and to purchase tickets, visit azhumane.org/cwf.