James Watts has been an important part of San Diego's art scene for decades, but he remains a bit of an enigma.
"I'm rather a mystery, even if I've been at it for a long, long time," he laughs, standing in his Downtown studio, where his art is stacked up around him, everything from folksy figurative paintings to stunning life-size kokeshi (Japanese doll) sculptures made of patchwork aluminum nailed to wood.
Watts was an art teacher at the Museum School and other local youth organizations, and he ran an arts co-op Downtown for several years in the 1980s and '90s. He's also enjoyed solo and group shows at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, San Diego Museum of Art and other big institutions here and beyond.
But part of what keeps the San Diego native somewhat underground is that he's been far too busy making art, teaching art and raising five kids to worry about things like building a good website and getting better Google results. The Internet would have you believe that he barely exists.
The reality is quite the opposite. This week alone, the prolific artist has sculptures in a group show opening at City Gallery (Room 314 in the Arts & Humanities building at San Diego City College, Downtown) from 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 11, and he'll be sketching live alongside more than 100 other artists, including Terri Beth Mitchell, Chris Martino, Gloria Muriel, Joshua Krause and Mike Maxwell in the $5 Monster Drawing Rally from 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 13, at the San Diego Art Institute in Balboa Park.
Watts is primarily a sculptor, but his goal is visual storytelling, and he's not afraid to use any medium to achieve it. Years ago, he embarked on a mission to complete five series of 100 pieces and has since successfully created 100 carved chairs, sculptural eggs, paintings and hand-sewn dolls. He's halfway done with 100 carved stone faces.
"Once you do 100 of something, you become a master of that art form," Watts explains. "It's Karate Kid stuff... If you do something so unique to yourself, and you do it repetitively, you become a Zen master."