All text, concepts and images ©2009 - 2021 Debra Healy
unless otherwise stated.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Niki De Saint Phalle:Art Provocateur

Niki de Saint Phalle 1930–2002 is a major retrospective of Franco-American artist
     Grand Palais Paris September 17, February 2, 2015 
Niki de Saint Phalle, cover French Vogue, 1952

Niki De Saint Phalle was born in 1930 to a patrician American mother and a French aristocratic father. She was raised in two cultures and two languages. She was a fashion model, she married young,  had children, and then she had a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized.  While in the mental hospital she started painting. 

Self Portrait, 1958, plaster and mixed media on wood
141 X 141 x10 cm
Through art she found her “voice”. She said, " I was lucky enough to find art because on a mental level I had the makings of a terrorist." In fact she had great sensitivity and an extraordinary eye.  After a lifetime of travel with frequent museum visits, she evolved the techniques she needed in order to express herself.   In these early works from the 1950’s,  she demonstrates a keen eye for composition, color, and balance. She had an instinct for survival, which required rebellion and distancing herself from the world of her parents. She was driven to express herself, in her own words she wanted to “ show everything, my heart, my emotions” she said “Painting, calms the chaos that was agitating my soul, it was a way of taming the dragons”
She grew up in two cultures American and European. Her early work uses plaster in the manner of Jean Dubuffet and paint splashing and dripping in the style of Jackson Pollack. 

She was  highly original,  and a self -taught artist.  She evolved her own unique style, digging deep inside her psyche, exploring her inner most dreams and nightmares .  Above is a  detail of her Pink Nude in Landscape, 1956.  The breasts and the pubis are studded with pins pointing out in an effort to protect and empower the woman.
La Mariée or Eva Maria, 1963 plaster , wire mesh, lace  and found objects
222 X 200 X 100 cm
Questioning the “Bride” is she chattel this large infanta, sealing a profitable alliance ?

Saint Sebastien (Portrait of my Lover), 1961, mans shirt ,paint, nails ,darts,dart board
on wood 100 X 74 x15  Hanover Sprengel Museum gift of the artist

A very bad boyfriend inspired the creation of this effigy, a voodoo ritual and ceremonial exorcism. It is also an exploration of archetypes. She found the creation a powerful ceremony empowering her to remove the very bad boyfriend. She said that ritual became very important part of her work.  She imbues this object with sacred intent.  She stole one of the bad boyfriend's shirts and drove nails into it substituting the head with a dartboard. Even though it was created with rage and violence it is an evocative work of art.

 The above video  is from the Tate  Liverpool exhibition in 2008
Shooting Paintings, Tirs
Ready aim fire!   The shooting series, Saint Phalle invented participatory Interactive and art performance art.  These works evolved over the next ten years of her life, they were meticulously assembled cast plaster assemblages encasing bags of richly pigmented paint; which when hit by a rifle shot would burst open, randomly transforming the composition. Thanks to her work she would assert herself in society on her own terms “ For me my sculptures represent the amplified world of women and women’s delusions of grandeur, women in today's world, women in power”

 “ By shooting at my self, I was shooting at society and it’s injustices. By shooting at my own violence I was shooting at the violence of our times.” She felt she was able to die at her own hand and be reborn again.  In many ways she was reborn.

          Alter Black and White, 1962 Plaster paint and found objects on wood panel 250 X 206 35 cm

Leaping Nana, 1970 Silkscreen on Arches Paper 76 X 56 cm. Hanover Sprengle Museum

above and below Niki de Saint Phalle in American Vogue, April 15, 1968
double page spread photography by Bert Stern

Inspired by the pregnancy of her friend Clarice Rivers, the wife of American artist Larry Rivers, she began to use her artwork to consider archetypal female and the position of women in society. Her artistic expression of the proverbial “everywoman” was named 'Nanas'. Nanas are empowered feminine forms the shapes are reminiscent of a Paleolithic goddess. They are voluptuous self possessed, playful, defiantly not the perfect thin fashion mannequin or obedient little wife. Nanas cavorting are potent, proud, celebratory, and glorious in their open-legged defiance.

Saint Phalle said, “Communism and Capitalism have failed. I think the time has come for a new matriarchal society.”
Twirling Nanas definitely not naives

In 1970 Niki de Saint Phalle made an experimental feature length film with the director Peter Whitehead entitled "Daddy" where she explored incest and male domination. The film was inspired by dark episodes of her own childhood. In 1993 she published an autobiographical book "Mon Secret".  Niki de Saint Phalle overcame the trauma of her childhood to emerge as a truly creative artist. She found lasting love and a creative partnership.

Image Telerama France
Niki de Saint Phalle and her partner and collaborator the sculpture,]Jean Tinguely

Together they worked on major architectural commissions  the Stravinsky Fountain in Paris (1983) Golem (1972), the Cyclops (1969-1994) and the Tarot Garden (1978-1998)
The Stravinsky Fountain  in Paris being repaired and restored
Cat Head Tomen, 2000, Polyurathane iron, stones and glass mosaic. Santee, Garfield Park Conservatory

L'impeatrice at the Tarot Garden, Tuscany Italy
Saint Phalle working inside the L'imperatrice at the Tarot garden in Tuscany

Influenced by Antonio Gaudi's Park Guell in Barcelona, Watts Towers by Simon Rodia, Niki de Saint Phalle decided that she wanted to make something similar.  In 1979, she acquired some land in Garavicchio, Tuscany, about 100 km northwest of Rome. The garden, called Giardino dei Tarochi in Italian. The Tarot Garden contains sculptures inspired by the symbols found on Tarot cards. The garden took over 20 years to complete.  It opened in 1998.  It was financed by her own funds from licensing deals, Jewelry and perfume.
When Niki de Saint Phalle died in 2002 . She left behind an wealth of work, sometimes painful, sometimes 

From the Gand Palais
"Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002) is one of the most renowned artists from the mid-twentieth century. Throughout her prolific career, Saint Phalle created a complex body of work in various media which was deeply embedded with socio-political issues. With themes ranging from joyful to profound to intellectual, the paradoxical nature of her work has yet to be fully explored. She was one of the first women to receive international acclaim and recognition during her lifetime, as well as successfully create a public persona.  Similar to Warhol, Saint Phalle was able to use the media to skillfully guide the reception of her work.

The exhibition was organized in collaboration with the Réunion des musées nationaux - Grand Palais and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, with the kind participation of the Niki Charitable Art Foundation. The exhibition benefits from loans from the Sprengel Museum in Hanover, Germany and the Musée d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain (MAMAC) in Nice, France - both recipients of generous donations from the artist."

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