When Vanderpump Rules stars Tom Schwartz and Katie Maloney announced they were getting a divorce, the world grieved the end of an era. But as soon as I heard the news, I could think of only one thing: What will happen to the infamous “Bubba” graffiti art that hung above their couch all those seasons?
If you’re unfamiliar, beginning in season five of Vanderpump Rules, the couple’s apartment was adorned with a massive black canvas filled with white graffiti of their nicknames for each other, the most prominent being “Bubba” — a moniker so famous that Schwartz has it tattooed on his ass. The artwork stood witness to classic scenes such as Tom pranking his groomsmen with “ass steaks” and the couple litigating the drunken actions of “Tequila Katie” over an adult coloring book, becoming not just a fixture of the show but a quintessential part of the Bravo interior-design canon. It ranks among classics like the bear in Margaret Josephs’s foyer, Kenya Moore’s white refrigerator, and the entirety of Gizelle Bryant’s home.
But where did this painting come from? To casual Vanderpump Rules viewers, it just appeared out of the blue one day without explanation, much as Vail did in season three. But after poking around for answers online, I discovered a video Tom and Katie made with YouTuber Mr. Kate in 2016, in which interior designer Kate Albrecht basically does a mini–Home Makeover: WeHo Apartment Edition. Using a framed list of their nicknames and Tom’s love of graffiti art as inspiration, Albrecht creates the piece before our very eyes, scrawling out “Katie, Babe, BB, Bubba, Bub, Rub, Rubba” in white spray paint.
Naturally, I had to hear about the birth of the piece from Albrecht herself, who told me the video was part of a series in which she and her husband, Joey Zehr, did home makeovers for famous YouTubers. Having become friendly with Katie through the blogosphere (Pucker & Pout was in its prime at the time), Albrecht and Zehr decided to throw a reality-TV duo into the mix.
“The space was really fun — really gigantic walls, so much wall space,” Albrecht says of the apartment. “And, of course, being in our mid-20s, we had a very small budget. So, you know, giant inexpensive canvas, painted it black, one can of white spray paint. It was a one-hit wonder, and it took all of like five minutes to make, literally, and we hung it on the wall. And it was hilarious to then see the subsequent episodes.”
While the painting was heavily featured, much of their other work that day ended up out of frame. Particularly, Albrecht says, the massive emerald curtains on an adjacent wall that were meant to juxtapose the “ugly chic” graffiti art, but which viewers rarely got a good glimpse of.
In fact, Albrecht says the cameras weren’t really a factor they considered when designing the space. “The only mention of the show in terms of our brainstorming was clearance purposes for artwork. As I’m sure you see in many Bravo shows, they blur art in the background, so creating original art was very important. The ‘Bubba’ art was totally original, totally fast, easy, budget friendly, and now iconic.”
But with the new season of Vanderpump Rules covering Tom and Katie’s divorce — the premiere is even titled “Breaking Bubbas” — we’re left to wonder what has become of this work of art. Do they get joint custody? Was it donated to MoMA? Will someone adapt it into a musical à la Sunday in the Park With George? (And, if so, which former Newsie will play Tom Schwartz?) There was only one person who could help me get to the bottom of this mystery: Bubba herself, Katie Maloney, who was able to share exactly what happened to the painting.
“When we were moving out of our apartment and into our house, Tom freaking Schwartz left it in the parking garage of our apartment. I don’t know if he was under the impression that we weren’t gonna bring it or he was leaving it there just for the time being, but it ended up getting trashed,” she says, at which point I audibly gasped.
Recovery efforts unfortunately weren’t fruitful. “He went back. It wasn’t there. So maybe either someone took it or someone threw it in the dumpster, but it’s gone.”
This of course brings back memories of when Notre-Dame burned and serves as a poignant reminder of how important preservation is. The “Bubba” painting should live on, doing meet and greets at BravoCon or, if Andy Cohen got his way, hanging proudly in the Watch What Happens Live clubhouse.
“It literally comes up almost every time I see him,” Maloney says of Cohen’s desire for the painting. “I was just there last week and it definitely got brought up again. It makes me sad because I wish we could have had it somewhere just to immortalize it because it is iconic.”
But what makes the piece so iconic? For starters, Bravo fans love clinging to idiosyncrasies like this, especially when they’re as recurring as the “Bubba” painting was. There’s also something nostalgic about it, reminding us of Vanderpump Rules’ glory days, back when our reality stars lived in apartments and filmed lunches at places where you had to order at the counter. Or maybe we’re so drawn to it because it’s one of Lisa Vanderpump’s Horcruxes (the others being Giggy, Scheana’s crutches, Jax’s stolen sunglasses, and Sandoval’s trumpet). Regardless, I will be holding out hope that the painting somehow evaded the West Hollywood landfill and a Bravo fan or art aficionado happened upon it in that parking garage and gave it a new home.
“Maybe we send this message out there,” Maloney says. “If you have the ‘Bubba’ painting — what’s the reward? What’s the ransom? What do you want for it?” If the answer is a plate of goat-cheese balls and a Pumptini, I’m sure we can work something out.