Objects tell their own stories. Their materials reveal details about place, the form tells us about the maker. Perhaps there is no better example of this than The Watts Towers in California, a series of seventeen spindly structures that look like radio towers built by aliens. Close up, it’s easy to see the details of artist Simon Rodia’s lifelong obsession: streams of countless bottles, seashells, and other bits of refuse carefully tiled into a web of arches, loops, and stems. He called the work “Nuestro Pueblo,” Spanish for “our town”.
A tile-setter by trade, Rodia’s day job uniquely equipped him with the skills to produce the enormous cultural landmark. Working tirelessly after hours on these structures, the artist spent 33 years (1921-54) scouring the local Watts train tracks for material, and building his sculptures with the most basic tools. “I had it in mind to do something big,” he once said simply.
The Watts Towers are now the subject of The Avant-Garde Diaries’ latest short featuring filmmaker Aaron Rose. Rose, an ex-gallerist turned documentary filmmaker, explains that his attraction to Rodia stems from his own interest in art makers slightly outside the mainstream.
There’s a beauty to this that threads throughout the segment. In one scene, Rose walks along the train track as Rodia once did and recounts the methods the artist would have used. Rose is informative while literalizing a belief expressed earlier about the purpose of art making. “Whether you’re doing a record album, a film, a magazine, a painting, it’s really just storytelling.”