Italian-American, 20th century.
Born 1879, Serino, Italy; died 1963, Martinez, California.
Simon Rodia's Watts Towers (La Nuestro Pueblo) is one of the best known works of Outsider Art in the world. Rising up from the Watts neighborhood in south-central Los Angeles, California, this visionary environment--built between 1921-1954--has powerfully influenced generations of local LA artists, and many more around the world. Rodia's dazzling construction methods, his unique mosaic technique, and his dedication to realizing a singular vision stand as a powerful example of the Outsider spirit.
Born near Naples, Italy, in 1879, Rodia was sent by his parents at the age of 14 to escape military service. He worked with one of his brothers briefly in the Pennsylvania coal mines, and worked subsequently as an itinerant laborer, eventually settling down to build a family in Martinez, California. Following his divorce in 1911, Rodia moved to Long Beach, and worked in the construction industry. In 1921, he bought a tract of land in Watts that would become the home of his visionary "La Nuestro Pueblo" or "Our Town."
Built of reinforced concrete--steel rods covered with cement--Rodia's towers spiral dynamically into the sky, bristling and glittering with all manner of embedded materials and objects found by the artist such as ceramic shards, dolls, broken glass, jagged pieces of mirror, tile. Defying all odds as well as gravity, Rodia worked in his spare time, using no more than a belted harness, a pail and trowel for cement, and a pouch containing his materials. After years of difficulty with vandals and others hostile to his vision, Rodia sold his tract of land, including his great work itself, in 1954, and relocated to Martinez, never to return. His epic accomplishment became the focus of study as early as 1962 by Seymour Rosen, a seminal advocate of visionary environments, and has consistently drawn international attention to the urgent need for preserving other such Outsider Art masterpieces which ask us to think differently about the world around us.
- Jenifer P. Borum
1992, Parallel Visions: Modern Artists and Outsider Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles
1962, Simon Rodia’s Towers in Watts: A Photographic Exhibition, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles
Ludwig, Kelly, Detour Art: Outsider, Folk Art, and Visionary Environments Coast to Coast, Kansas City Star Books, Kansas City, 2007.
"Simon Rodia," Raw Vision, No. 37, 2001.
Schaewen, Deidi, John Maizels, and Angelika Taschen, Fantasy Worlds, Taschen, Köln, 1999.
Manley, Roger, Mark Sloan, Ted Degener, and Marcus Schubert, Self-made Worlds: Visionary Folk Art Environments, Aperture, New York, 1997.
Tuchman, Maurice and Carol S. Eliel, eds., Parallel Visions: Modern Artists and Outsider Art, exhibition catalogue, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, 1992.
Cardinal, Roger, Outsider Art, Praeger, New York, 1972.
Trillin, Calvin, "A Reporter at Large: I Know I Want to Do Something," New Yorker, May 29, 1965.
Rosen, S., and Paul Laporte, Simon Rodia's Towers in Watts: A Photographic Exhibition, exhibition catalogue, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, 1962.