What is a
Visionary Art Environment?
An art environment (also
is a permanent, large-scale, art installation that reflects the
visions and inspirations of the people that have created it.
There are many of these around the world mostly hidden away in
rural areas where neighbors were unlikely to complain.
Most of the environments of the past were created by dedicated,
even obsessed, individuals who spent upwards of 20 years
building them. Many of the creators were unschooled in the arts
and some did not even think that what they created was art.
of the most famous examples of a visionary art environment is
in Los Angeles, CA. It was built over 33 years by Simon (Sam)
Rodia. He built tall towers out of re-bar and scrap wire that he
found and then cemented them with shells, broken 7-Up bottles,
broken dishes and other bits of colored pottery that he found.
The only thing he had in mind was "to build something big." When
it was done, he gave the property to a neighbor and moved away,
never to return.
In the 1959 the City of Los Angeles declared the towers unsafe
and tried to pull them down. They couldn't do it. The towers
were too well-built. The only thing that happened was some of
the mosaic pieces popped off. The site was saved from the
wrecking ball and, now, Watts Towers is the smallest National
Monument in the United States - 1/10 of an acre.
example of a religiously inspired environment is
Leonard Knight has poured and painted over 100,000 gallons of
paint on a mud hillside for over 20 years. He has sculpted
caverns out of hay bales, tree trunks, and painted adobe. The
whole hillside is covered with religious slogans revolving
around the idea, "God is Love."
Salvation Mountain, near Niland, CA, was begun in the mid 1980's
when Knight decided that was the place to build his monument to
God. Sometime in the 1990's the site was declared a toxic hazard
and seemed destined for destruction. In 2002 it was entered in
the Congressional Record as a National Treasure. Leonard, now in
his late 70's, can be found painting on his mountain most days
during the winter months.
few art environments are the work of inspired sophisticates,
rather than art world outsiders.
The Tarot Garden,
in Italy was created by Niki de Saint Phalle, a famous mosaic
artist. Along with another well-known artist, Jean Tinguely, she
created a garden of gigantic mosaic covered structures that
represent the major Arcana of the Tarot Deck.
The Tarot Garden was begun in 1979. During much of the
construction Niki lived inside the Empress, one of the largest
sculptures. The site was opened to the public in 1998 after
almost 20 years of work. Niki de Saite Phalle has created
sculpture gardens internationally. One of them is in Escondido,
Queen Califia's Magical Circle.
Niki died in 2002.