Niki de SAINT PHALLE |
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France 1930 - 2002
"Life ... is never the way one imagines it. It surprised you, it amazes you, and it makes you laugh of cry when you don't expect it." -- Niki de Saint Phalle.
Niki de Saint Phalle is best known for her oversized figures which embrace contradictory qualities such as good and evil, modern and primitive, sacred and profane, play and terror. Her exaggerated "earth mother" sculptures, the Nanas, playfully explore the ancient tradtion of feminine deities while celebrating modern feminism's efforts to reconsider and revalue the woman's body. In recent years de Saint Phalle has made monsters and beasts into architectural forms for playgrounds and schools. These works demonstrate her deep interest in architects like Antonia Gaudi, who made organic fluid buildings incorporating wild fantasies and everyday objects. Her collaboration with the Swiss artist Jean Tinguely on a landmark fountain for the plaza of the Centre Pompidou in Paris is world renowned. The marketing success of Niki de Saint Phalle perfume allowed the artist to fulfill a dream to create a park in northern Italy full of giant sculptures based on Tarot cards. She continues to work on these huge tile and broken mirror-covered Tarot figures, many of which can be entered and one of which is a functional residence.
De Saint Phalle's Sun God was the first work commissioned by the Stuart Collection the exuberantly colored, fourteen-foot bird is placed atop a fifteen-foot concrete arch and sited on a grassy area between the Faculty Club and Mandeville Auditorium.
Although de Saint Phalle has lived near Paris for more than twenty-years, her artistic formation has been as much North American as European. She lived in New York from 1933 to 1951 and again in the 1960s when she was prominent in the development of Happeining and other artistic efforts involving the integration of art and life.
Catherine Marie-Agnes Fal de Saint Phalle is born at Neuilly-sure-Seine on the morning of 29 October 1930.
Her birth sign is Scorpio (with Scorpio in the ascendant). She is the second of five children born to Jeanne Jacqueline and Andre Marie-Fal de Saint Phalle. Her father is one of seven brothers with a share in the family's banking house. He had become manager of its New York branch in 1927 but when the stock-exchange collapsed in 1930 he lost both the business and his entire fortune. Marie-Agnes and her brother John are sent to their paternal grandparents in France and spend the next three years in Nievre.
Marie-Agnes and John return to their parents in Greenwich, Connecticut. Every year they spend their summer holidays at the Chateau of Filerval, which had been built by Le Nôtre and which now belongs to their American grandfather.
The family moves into an apartment on East 88th Street, New York. Marie-Agnes, now known as Niki de Saint Phalle, attends the Convent School of the Sacred Heart in East 91st Street.
Niki de Saint Phalle is expelled from the Convent School. She moves to Princeton, New Jersey, to live with her grandparents, who have left France during the Second World War. She attends the local public school.
Niki de Saint Phalle returns to her parents' home and attends Brearley School, New York. She reads Edgar Allan Poe, Shakespeare and Greek tragedy. She takes part in school perfomances and writes her first poems and plays.
In the opinion of her headmistress, Niki de Saint Phalle's behaviour is such that she sould either have psychiatric treatment or leave school. Her parents send her to a Convent School at Suffren, New York State.
Niki de Saint Phalle graduates from Oldfield School, Maryland
She works as a model. Photographs of her appear in Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and on the cover of Life magazine. In June Niki de Saint Phalle, 18, elopes with Harry Mathews, 19 a US marine.
Niki de Saint Phalle and Harry Mathews settle in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He studies music at Harvard University, she begins to paint. She produces her first oils and gouaches.
Their daughter, Laura, is born in Boston
Niki de Saint Phalle, Harry and Laura leave Boston and move into an apartment in the Rue Jean Dolent in Paris. Harry Mathews studies music in the hope of becoming a conductor. Niki de Saint Phalle studies drama. They both take charge of their daughter's education. The family spends the summer months in the South of France, Spain and Italy.
Niki de Saint Phalle suffers a severe nervous breakdown and is treated as an in-patient in Nice. Since painting helps her to overcome this crisis in her life, she decides to give up acting and become an artist. At the same time Harry abandons his music studies and writes his first novel.
In March Niki de Saint Phalle and Harry Mathews buy their first car in Nice. They drive back to Paris, where they share a house with Anthony Bonner, and American jazz musician and composer. Niki de Saint Phalle is introduced to the American painter, Hugh Weiss, who remains her mentor for five years and who encourages her to retain her autodidactic style. In September Niki de Saint Phalle, Harry and Laura Mathews move to Deyá on the island of Mallorca.
Their son Philip is born in March. Niki de Saint Phalle visits Madrid and Barcelona, where she discovers Gaudí. The experience changes her life and lays the seeds for her later decision to design her own sculpture park. In August the family returns to Paris and moves into a small apartment in the Rue Alfred Durand-Claye. During 1955 Niki de Saint Phalle meets Jean Tinguely and his wife, Eva Aeppli. She often visits the Louvre and gets to know the work of Paul Klee, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Henri Rousseau. She also visits Joseph Ferdinand Cheval's fantastic castle Le Palais ideal in Hauterives.
The Mathews family lives in Lans-en-Vercors in the French Alps. Niki de Saint Phalle Mathews produces a series of oil paintings which she exhibits for the first time in St. Gallen in 1956. Through her husband she meets many contemporary writers, including John Ashbery and Kenneth Koch.
Niki de Saint Phalle Mathews visits the Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and is introduced to work by the American artists Jasper Johns, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and Robert Rauschenberg.
Niki de Saint Phalle and Harry Mathews are divorced; he moves to the Rue de Varenne with their children, while Niki de Saint Phalle remains in the Rue Alfred Durand-Claye. She continues her artistic experiments, producing assemblages in plaster and 'target' pictures. At the end of 1960 she and Jean Tinguely move into the Impasse Ronsin, where they share the same studio. Jean Tinguely introduces her to Pontus Hulten, the director of the Moderna Museet in Stockholm. He helps her to take part in important exhibitions which are being held at this time and buys a number of her works fo the Moderna Museet.
During February a group exhibition is held at the Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris under the title Comparison: Peinture sculpture. Niki de Saint Phalle exhibits her first work - a 'target' montage titled Portrait of My Love. On 12 February she organises the ifrst of more than twelve 'shootings' which are held in 1961 and 1962. These events involve sculptures and assemblages incorporating containers of paint which, concealed beneath the plaster, spatter their contents over the image when shot with a pistol. The resultant pictures are known as 'shooting paintings'. Among spectators at the first such event are members of the Nouveaux Realistes. Pierre Restany invites Niki de Saint Phalle to join the group, which already includes Arman, Cesar, Christo, Gerard Desc ...
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