10 things to know about Niki de Saint Phalle

Niki de Saint Phalle
Niki de Saint Phalle, the Yin and Yang Snake

Today, focus on Niki Saint Phalle! 10 bits of info you should know about the artist before taking in the retrospective at the Grand Palais.

“In the human heart there is an urge to destroy all. To destroy is to affirm one’s existence in the face of and against everything.”

  • 1

Niki Saint Phalle is born in 1930 and named Catherine Marie-Agnès Fal de Saint Phalle.

  • 2

She came from a middle class Franco-American family. Raped by her father at the age of eleven, she then became an unstable, disturbed young girl.

  • 3

At the beginning, Niki Saint Phalle worked as a model for Vogue.

Niki de Saint Phalle
Niki de Saint Phalle for the cover of Vogue in the nearly fifty’s
  • 4

After travelling between the United States and France, Niki de Saint Phalle went into depression in Nice and it was artistic creation that helped her come out of it. Encouraged by her psychiatrists, she dedicated herself wholly to art.

  • 5

Her first exhibition took place in 1961. Les Tirs, performances during which the audiences threw bags of colour, made her famous. She was very troubled by her past and les Tirs was a means of externalising her demons within: by firing at her canvasses she was shooting at her father and society, in order to free herself.

Niki de Saint Phalle
Niki de Saint Phalle, Grand Tir, 1961
  • 6

After two years of provocative performances, Niki de Saint Phalle withdrew into “a more private, more feminine world” and began to reflect on and represent the role of women.

  • 7

In 1965, she had her first exhibitions.Nanas. These were initially inspired by a sketch representing a close friend, Clarice Rivers, in late pregnancy.

Niki de Saint Phalle, Bénédicte
Niki de Saint Phalle, Bénédicte, 1965
  • 8

A versatile artist, Niki de Saint Phalle is simultanously a plastician, painter, sculptor and film director. She also created “Daddy”, a virulent denunciation of the family that was connected with her childhood trauma.

Niki de Saint Phalle
Niki de Saint Phalle in the movie “Daddy”, 1972
  • 9

Inspired by Gaudi’s Parc Güell in Barcelona, she created the Tarot garden at Capalbio in Tuscany, which brings together monumental sculptures inspired by the game’s characters. One of them was also home to the artist during the work.

Niki de Saint Phalle
Niki de Saint Phalle, Tarot Garden, Toscana
  • 10

In 2002, she succumbed to a respiratory disease linked to the toxic polyester fumes she inhaled as she created her works.

Thanks to Camille Edel for this article!

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