Niki de Saint Phalle, née Catherine Marie-Agnes Fal de Saint Phalle (October 29, 1930 - May 21, 2002) was a French sculptor, painter, and film maker.
The early years
She was born in Neuilly-sur-Seine in Paris to Jeanne Jacqueline (née Harper) and Andre Marie-Fal de Saint Phalle. The family moved from France to America in 1933. During her teens, she was a fashion model; at age 16 she made the cover of Life magazine (September 26, 1946), and in November 1952 the cover of french Vogue magazine.
She rejected the values of her family, which were typical of that time, that woman stayed at home while the men made careers, and that races should be separated. However, after marrying young and giving birth to two children, she found herself in the very same bourgeois position she had rejected, which caused a nervous breakdown. As a therapy, she was encouraged to start painting.
Saint Phalle continued to paint, and she got a studio in Paris where the family had moved. Her first art exhibition was held in 1956 in Switzerland where she displayed naive style oil paintings. She then moved into collages, often featuring objects of violence, such as guns and knives.
In 1961, she became known around the world for her Shooting paintings. A shooting painting consisted of a wooden base board on which containers of paint were laid, then covered with plaster. The painting was then raised and Niki would shoot at it with a .22 caliber rifle. The bullets penetrated paint containers which spilled their contents over the painting. This "painting style" was completely new, and she travelled around the world performing shooting sessions in Paris, Sweden, Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and in Malibu.
After the "Shooting paintings" came a period when she explored the varous roles of woman. She made life size dolls of woman, such as brides and mothers giving birth. They were usually dressed in white.
De Saint Phalle made friends with Larry Rivers, an artist in a neighbouring studio, and his wife Clarice. When Clarice got pregnant, it inspired her to make life sized scupltures of voluptous woman.
In 1966 she took part in an exhibition at Moderna Muséet in Stockholm, where a huge Nana (30m long, 10m wide, 6m high) lying on her back was erected.
Her life with Jean Tinguely
In 1960, de Saint Phalle divorced from her husband Harry Mathews. The same year, Jean Tinguely divorced from his wife Eva Aeppli. In 1963, they bought a house and studio in Soisy-sur-Ecole, some 50 kilometers south of Paris.
She married Jean Tinguely on 13 July 1971 acquiring Swiss citizenship.
The Tarot Garden
After visiting the Gaudi´s Parc Güell in Barcelona, and the garden in Bomarzo, she wanted to make something similar, a monumental sculpture park created by a woman. In 1979, she acquired some land in Garavicchio, Tuscany, about 100 km north-west from Rome along the coast. The garden, called Giardino dei Tarocchi in Italian, contains sculptures of the symbols found on Tarot cards. The garden took many years, and a lot of money, to complete. It opened in 1998, after more than 20 years of work.
On 17 November 2000 Niki became an honorary citizen of Hannover, Germany and donated 300 pieces of her artwork to the Sprengel Museum.
Many of Niki de Saint Phalle's sculptures are large and some of them are exhibited in public places, including:
Stravinsky Fountain (or Fontaine des automates) near the Centre Pompidou, Paris (1982) - also featuring works of Jean Tinguely
La fountaine Château-Chinon, at Château-Chinon, Nièvre. Collaboration with Jean Tinguely
Hall of Zurich train station
Niki de Saint Phalle, Pontus Hultén, ISBN 5 7757 0582. Published in connection with an exhibition in Bonn
Niki's World: Niki De Saint Phalle , Ulrich Krempel, ISBN 3791330683