Urgent Museum Notice

Niki de Saint Phalle: Her Life

Blog Category:  Artist Spotlight
A white clay sculpture that depicts the headless pregnant body of a woman with her arms extended out. Her belly and breast are painted in a multi-colored pattern.

In Niki de Saint Phalle’s sculptures, light seems to dance as it reflects off mosaic surfaces made from glass, mirrors, and colored stones. The sinuous curves and massive forms of the sculptures themselves radiate a sense of movement and a tangible dynamism. Saint Phalle’s sculptures are individualistic, coinciding with the care-free attitude of the artist.

Niki de Saint Phalle sitting in a white jumpsuit painting the sculpture of a 'nana'.
Niki de Saint Phalle painting Le Monde, c. 1981 Photo by Laurent Codominas © 2010 Niki Charitable Art Foundation, All rights reserved.


Saint Phalle was born in France and in her early years exemplified her defiant attitude through the creation of her art. While attending a convent school in her youth, Saint Phalle painted the fig leaves covering the classical sculptures on campus red, illustrating an early love of color and a disregard for following the rules. In her late teens, she married writer Harry Mathews, began a career as a fashion model, and also studied to become an actress. But in 1953, she was hospitalized for depression, and it was then that she began to delve into painting and collage.


Saint Phalle was a self-taught artist who experimented with creative techniques that were distinctly her own. Harry Mathews, her first husband, said, “When she found work she liked, she absorbed and devoured it; rather than analyzing it rationally, she remained instinctive and developed her intuitions patiently and observantly.”[1] Due to the unique methods Saint Phalle used to create her “Tirs” (Shootings) works of the early 1960s, she was associated with the Nouveaux Réalistes group in France, whose members included Jean Tinguely, who would become Saint Phalle’s second husband. In the mid-1960s, Saint Phalle began to focus on figures of women. She called these sculptures “Nanas,” which translates to “broads” or “chicks” in English. These works epitomize Saint Phalle’s fascination with both conventional and progressive ideas about femininity. The voluptuous figures allude to historical fertility symbols and are celebratory of the female form.

Niki de Saint Phalle photographs a piece of her work that is a combination of found objects mounted to a building.
Niki de Saint Phalle shooting Tir tableau, parking lot on Sunset Strip Blvd., Los Angeles, California, on March 4, 1962 © 2010 Niki Charitable Art Foundation, All rights reserved. © Photo William Claxton

Saint Phalle died in 2002 but left behind a legacy of unique and fascinating works that explore a number of different themes including Animals, Totems, and Black Heroes. Come see Niki de Saint Phalle’s work at NMWA beginning April 28th. Visit www.nmwa.org/sculptureproject to learn more and find out how you can participate in the Opening Celebration!

Niki de Saint Phalle, Les trios grâces (The Three Graces), 1999 © 2010 Niki Charitable Art Foundation, All rights reserved

 

 


[1] “Portrait of a Woman; La Hachoir; Face/Self PortraitPortrait of a Woman; il: La Hachoir; il: Face/Self Portrait; Living With Niki.” Tate Etc.(Spring 2008): 44-51. Art Full Text, WilsonWeb (accessed March 11, 2010).

Related Posts

  • Reclamation: Q&A with Jenny Dorsey

    Posted: Apr 19, 2021 in Artist Spotlight
    Chef, writer, and artist Jenny Dorsey talks with us about her process and work, part of NMWA's new online exhibition RECLAMATION: Recipes, Remedies, and Rituals.
    A light-skinned woman of Asian descent stands behind a large, wooden kitchen table that is full of two white dishes of finely plated food and various small, plastic to-go dishes., alongside a small bronze French Press coffee maker. The woman smiles and wears a grey tshirt under a black and white vertical striped apron.
    Blog Category:  Artist Spotlight
  • Women to Watch 2020: Joli Livaudais

    Posted: Mar 31, 2021 in Artist Spotlight
    Learn about artist Joli Livaudais's process and work, which was featured in Paper Routes, the latest installment of NMWA's Women to Watch exhibition series.
    A light-skinned woman with short brown hair stands in front of a white wall to which paper beetles, sculpted out of photographs, are affixed. The woman holds a beetle in her open palm, while others are arranged atop her brown leather jacket. She smiles slightly at the camera while leaning against the wall.
    Blog Category:  Artist Spotlight
  • Women to Watch 2020: Luisa Pastor

    Posted: Mar 10, 2021 in Artist Spotlight
    Learn about Spanish artist Luisa Pastor's process and work, which was featured in Paper Routes, the latest installment of NMWA's Women to Watch exhibition series.
    A beige rectangular work with fragments of small boxlike elements adhered together to create a textured surface.
    Blog Category:  Artist Spotlight