In 1930, Niki de Saint Phalle was born in a middle-class family in Paris.
Nikki a bullet shot into life
Nikki Saint Phalle is a French name. She has French genes in her blood, but she grew up in American culture. After she was born, her parents went to the United States, leaving Nikki to live with her grandparents. Three years later, during the Great Depression, Nikki moved to the United States with her parents. “She is a dual nationality. She speaks very good English and speaks French, but she does not write well and has grammatical errors. Her life style is very French, and she usually dresses like French women. She is very beautiful , She also worked as a cover model for fashion magazines when she was young.” said Bloum Cardenas, the head of the Nikki Saint Phalle Charitable Art Foundation. She also has a more important identity-Nikki’s granddaughter.
Dianpei’s childhood left an indelible impact on Nikki’s life. And what had an earthquake-like impact on her artistic career was the injury that her father brought to her when she was 11 years old. At the age of 18, Nikki eloped with the writer Harry Matthew, whom she had known since she was 12, and then gave birth to two children. When the first child was born, Nikki was a fashion model. As a fashion model, Nikki’s career is progressing very smoothly. In 1949, she appeared on the cover of the famous magazine Life; in 1952, the family moved to Paris, and Nikki appeared on the cover of the French version of Vogue in the same year. With the birth of her second child, Nikki found herself stepping into the stale and conservative traditional life model she had rejected. The contradictions in her heart, coupled with the lingering shadow of childhood, caused her mental breakdown. Painting as a form of treatment, she began to pursue her own artistic path with the encouragement of doctors. Under the choice of art and motherhood, Nikki chose the former. For this, she felt a sense of guilt in her heart. “She is a particularly good grandmother, but not a good mother.” Bloum Cardenas commented on Nikki’s motherhood.
“In 1960, I was a very angry young woman, angry at men and their power. I think they deprived me of my freedom. I want to conquer their world and make my own money… I think To tell them that I am a person, I exist, and my voice of resistance as a woman is vital. I am ready to’kill.’
While working as a model in Paris, Nikki met the American painter Hugh Weiss. After seeing her paintings, Nikki strongly encouraged her to continue her artistic creation. While in Barcelona, Nikki was shocked by the works of Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi, especially his sculpture garden “Park Güell”. The genius use of materials and colors in Gaudí’s works opened the door to art in her heart and inspired her later creation of the sculpture garden.
In 1956, she met the Swiss artist Jean Dingley and since then opened the door to art. In the same year, Nikki held the first oil painting exhibition of her life in Switzerland. She faced the pain that accompanies her in a provocative, rebellious and terminating way. Dingley became her second husband a few years later. In 1961, Nikki became famous for his “design art”: Nikki with golden brown hair shot with a short gun, and his eyes were fierce and bold. These 22-caliber bullets flying to a polyethylene paint bag made of wood or metal were making When the paint splashes, it also creates a splash and explosion effect on the canvas. This “no murder without the dead” creative method declared the end of painting, making Nikki the core figure of European “new realism” art. She began to use art to challenge the traditional world dominated by men. She wanted freedom, freedom as a woman. Nikki is a rebel of the times, and her creations are still pioneers even today. In such an era that advocated the so-called “seriousness”, Nikki was once questioned for the rich colors and breakthrough forms of her works.
For example, Nikki has a slim figure that people in the 1960s sought. But her granddaughter Bloum Cardenas said that Nikki was very upset about this: “She always hopes that she can be more plump. Everyone is thin and beautiful, but Nikki is critical. Women’s lives are worth celebrating, and all women are Beautiful, sexy and free.” That’s why Nikki created the image of “Nana”. Behind Nana’s fat, strange, and distorted body is Nikki’s self-acceptance and tolerance of being a woman. In the history of art, female images mostly exist for sexiness, and mostly created by men. And “Nana” was created by a woman herself, who conquered the world with her free body and soul. Coincidentally, in 1966, Nikki teamed up with her husband Dingley and the artist Ultwitte to exhibit a giant sculpture called “Hon” (translated as “She” in Swedish) at the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm. It once again caused a strong sensation in the world art circle. “Hon” is designed as a woman lying flat. The audience needs to enter “her” through the symbolic “entrance” between the sculpture’s legs. This work completely challenged the public’s acceptance restrictions, boldly and frankly proclaiming to the world the woman—the sacred body and the profound meaning of the source of modern civilization.
Few art critics talk about Nikki’s creation, one of the reasons is that she is hard to be classified clearly. Is she an artist of the 20th century or a sculptor “from ancient times”? When was the core period of her creative career? Was it the early batch of oil paintings that heralded her future path of creation? Or was it the later period of shooting creation, a period of neo-realism dominated by altars and collective art? Or, it’s the stage of romanticism concealed by her painful time filled with white hearts, images of brides and birth mothers.
In the creation of “Nana”, some of the sculptures are based on ancient objects. In other sculptures, we can see the influence of Picasso or Leger, and even the similarities in color with Matisse. But they still retain the style of “Nana” itself.
In the series of “The Devouring Mother”, the fierce social criticism it has suffered is extremely ironic. This group of works is reminiscent of the terrible nightmare devoured by evil witches, so it is difficult to be welcomed by the public.
One of the most critical elements in Nikki’s art is her passion for experimenting with various materials: she has used oil paint, plaster, guns, fine wire mesh, fabric, wool, found objects, toys, clay , Polyester fiber, and finally, her recent favorites: glass, mirrors and ceramics.
Nikki seems to be in action all the time, always focusing on new exploration. Sometimes it is inevitable that she advances too fast in creation, leading to insufficient development at certain stages. For example, those sculptures with thin outlines that seem to be close to plants and almost abstract, and those lamp-shaped sculptures that seem to be drawn in mid-air. Perhaps she should develop these propositions deeper. However, time does not allow, because she is busy creating one of the largest art projects to date: “Tarot Garden”.
Everything she has done carries a certain urgency-as if she is always forced by the shortness of time, always afraid that time will be exhausted and her mission will not be completed. Her fascination with immortality, this fascination, after all, stems from her lifelong love of Egyptian art, or from the urgent need in her heart, she is destined to show that a woman can be in such a wide range of time. To create?
Nikki’s works are rarely collected by art museums. This may be due to her amateur status as an artist, and it is difficult to be attributed to a certain file. They are indeed not pop art, nor do they belong to op art or conceptual art. But no matter what the result is, her “Tarot Garden” has always been located in the classic tradition of “Fantasy Garden”. It is the most ambitious one since Gaudí’s Park Guell.
Nikki’s various performances are not only exciting for the viewer, but also tiring. Even thinking about the work she has done is exhausting. If she can take her time, relax more, go for a walk with the puppy at home every day, and read more books, maybe her life will be a little different. However, she can’t do that. She is always working, working, working.
All the above, and in order to reveal the real mystery of Nikki’s artistic creation, the mystery that belongs to her has not yet been revealed. They are hidden in the “Tarot Garden” that she has always loved, and are buried together with the polyester materials that lead her to death.
In 2002, Ni Gene died of emphysema in California, USA.