Niki de Saint Phalle
“I’m following a course that was chosen for me, following a pressing need to show that a woman can work on a monumental scale.”
“My mental breakdown was good in the long run, because I left the clinic a painter.” - Niki de Saint Phalle
Niki de Saint Phalle was born on October 29, 1930 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, into an aristocratic family. At a young age the family relocated to New York and Niki attended the Convent School of the Sacred Heart in New York as well as Brearley and graduated from Oldfield, a boarding school near Baltimore. She married Harry Matthews, the writer, in 1949 and their first child Laura was born in 1951. Their son Philipe was born in 1955. The young family lived in many European cities and towns. Niki discovered painting and the direction for her life while recovering in Nice from a nervous break down. She created her first oils and gouaches in 1953. While visiting Barcelona in 1955, she was deeply impacted by the architecture of Antoni Gaudí, especially his Güell Park which inspired ideas of one day making her own sculpture park. In 1960 she conducted her first experimental rifle-shot painting and began a long and productive collaboration with Swiss sculptor and future husband, Jean Tinguely. She joined the New Realists group and exhibited her work for the first time in 1961. Collaborations with Tinguely include Hon and Le Parqadis Fantaqstique both from 1966 and in the collection of the Moderna Museet in Stockholm. Another large collaborative installation with Tinguely was the Stravinsky Fountain, 1983, installed beside the Centre Pompidou in Paris. In the late 1970’s the artist began what she considered to be her life’s work, The Tarot Garden. Located on a 14-acre site in Tuscany, the garden represents 22 figures of the Tarot’s major arcana. Fundraising efforts for the garden included Saint-Phalle creating a self-named fragrance for Jacqueline Cochran Company. The documentary film on the artist Who is the Monster, You or Me? was made in 1995 by Peter Schamoni. Toxic fumes from materials used in her earlier sculptures including polyester caused severe damage to the artist’s lungs and initiated a move to La Jolla, California in the mid 1990’s. One of her last major projects was Queen Califia’s Magical Circle sculpture park created on a 12-acre parcel in Escondido, California. The installation includes a maze entrance, a 400-foot circular “snake wall’ which encompasses eight totem sculptures ranging in size from 11 to 21 feet high and adorned with mythical creatures and animals derived from Native American, Pre-Columbian and Mexican art as well as the vibrant imagination of the artist. The totems encircle Queen Califia, the mythical warrior founder of California. This park represents the artist’s late period mosaic work. Niki de Saint Phalle passed away May 21, 2002 in La Jolla, California.