Friday, October 29, 2010

Arty Farty Friday ~ Niki de Saint Phalle

Today would have been the birthday of Niki de Saint Phalle, who died in 2001. Her name might not be immediately recognisable to some passing readers; it was new to me, but led to an interesting wander around the net.

This artist and sculptor was born on 29 October 1930 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, near Paris, France. Her parents suffered losses in the Great Depression and the family moved to the USA, when Niki was 3 years old. She grew into a beautiful woman, started out during her teen years modelling for Vogue and other magazines - made the covers of Life and Vogue before age 20.

She married young, (and older, and divorced) had two children but typical family values of her time - a pattern of male domination, domestication of women and separation of races seriously irked her. Forced into this pattern she suffered a nervous breakdown and was encouraged to paint as therapy.

Niki's art was largely self-taught, though as time went on and she had moved back to Paris, she mixed with some of the art world's best known names, and was clearly influenced and assisted by studying their work. Her artwork followed a rather strange evolution - from naive style oils and collages featuring violence, guns or knives, she went on to present what have become known as her (probably satirical)"Shooting Paintings" - with parcels of paint hidden under a plaster surface of the picture and exploded by being shot at with a 2.2 rifle.

She said:
“I was ready to kill. As victims I chose my own paintings....The paintings were shedding blood. The white surface was covered with splashes of colour. The paintings came alive.”

Next came her "Nanas", representation of womanhood, brightly-coloured, archetypal female forms, life-size to larger than life - to gargantuan : brides, motherhood, decorated with mirrors and mosaics.

(Above: Three Graces)

Then came The Tarot Garden. After visiting Gaudi's Parc Güell in Barcelona she decided to construct a similar sculpture park, but this time created by a woman. In 1979, she acquired some land in Tuscany, north-west of Rome, and along the coast. The garden, Giardino dei Tarocchi, contains sculptures of the symbols from the major arcana of a Tarot deck.

(Sculpture representing The Empress Tarot card.)

Work on the garden began in 1979, it was officially opened to the public in May 1998 after some 20 years of work. During construction the sculptor lived inside the massive sphinx-like Empress sculpture, fitted out appropriately with bed, bath etc.
There is also a deck of Tarot cards designed by Niki. (Link)

As well as her marriages Niki maintained a 30-year relationship with Swiss-born sculptor Jean Tinguely. They were originally inspired by love, later by shared artistic sensibilities. They came from very different backgrounds - he from pure working-class, she from an aristocratic family. It was said of them that they were strikingly good-looking as well as rebellious, and that both had oversized egos.

A smidgin of astrology

I say "a smidgin" because I'm not going to get bogged down in detail, I'll comment only on what stands out, to me, in the context of her art and what we know about her personality. For a passing reader who is deeply into all the astrological nooks and crannies - there's this: by highly respected astrologer Liz Greene at
Psychological Horoscope Analysis for Niki De Saint Phalle

One indication of the oversized ego mentioned above: Scorpio Sun slap bang on a Scorpio ascendant - if time of birth, 6:42 AM, given by is accurate.

Moon at 3 degrees Aquarius - first decan of Aquarius - the Uranian (rebellious) decan. Sun/Moon/rising sign all in Fixed signs - a determined and stubborn nature for sure! Uranus (Aquarius's ruler) in helpful sextile to Aquarius Moon.....pinpointing her rebellious side, her refusal to comply with the "typical family values" of her younger days, when men were men and women were in the kitchen.

Jupiter exactly conjunct Pluto is a good fit. Jupiter represents anything oversized and exaggerated, and combined with a sense of power via Pluto this represents, rather well, the best-known works of this artist - their gargantuan proportions, demanding attention. As this Jup/Plu conjunction is in Cancer, a very feminine, maternal, fecund-type sign, it fits especially well her "Nana" sculptures.

One more thing - a Grand Trine in Fire signs links Uranus in Aries/Mars in Leo/ Venus in Sagittarius, forming a dynamic circuit blending art, energy, determination, and the unexpected. It could hardly have worked out better!

Other large sulptures by Niki de Saint Phalle are exhibited in public places in Europe and the United States. This one is in San Diego, California at the Convention Center

"The sculpture I have proposed to the Convention Center is the image of one person in all his or her magnificence and joy, which is represented by its brightly colored glass flickering in the sunlight. I also show the darker image of the self in the gray and black tones. There is the feminine side with the longer hair and the masculine side. It is the coming together, the integration of the self. It is a Western interpretation of Ying Yang. The windows in the head allow us to see Nature and the sea, representing an awareness of our surroundings. The mirrors will give, like the wheel of life, a sense of perpetual movement. Each time of day will be reflected in the mirrors. The sunset, the sunrise. This sculpture also represents my personal struggle to integrate the different sides of my personality. This is a challenge we all face."
Next 2 from Grotte (Grotto) de Niki de Saint Phalle in Hanover, Germany


Nana Upsidedown

Guardian Angel


A lithograph "Le Couple"

There's a Niki de Saint Phalle perfume - discussed in a blog HERE - a version of it is still available.
There is also a set of perfumes, one for each zodiac sign, under her name - though whether she was involved with this set personally isn't clear.


Astrology Unboxed said...

Hi Twilight:
I am a big fan of her work, specially her "Nanas". It reminds me so much of the paleolithic Venus figures, in particular the Venus of Willendorf. Very earthy, sensual.
Anyway, one of my favorites activities when I am in Paris is to hang out at the Stravinsky Fountain located near the Pompidou Center. It contains many of her sculptures and some of Jean Tinguely too. They always put a smile on my face and brighten my day.

Wisewebwoman said...

I've seen some of her work, T and it never fails to make me smile.
Thanks fot the post and an intro to more of her luscious pieces. I just love the fact she lived in one of them!!!

Twilight said...

Astrology Unboxed - Hi Fabienne ~
Yes, I hadn't appreciated the likeness to that ancient Venus before - thanks for pointing it out.

I'd like to see some of these sculputures "in the flesh" as it were. I can well imagine how they might lift the mood of a dreary day.

Twilight said...

WWW ~~~ Yes, it must have been fun to live inside The Empress, peering out on the world below through huge nipples. :-D

Kaleymorris said...

There is a woman in this video that looks a lot like the women on this blog post.

Twilight said...

Kaleymorris ~~~ Oh well spotted K!
Yes, exactly so, "opening" an' all!
Now, I wonder who copied whom, or if it was mere coincidence?

Twilight said...

Kaleymorris ~~~ Went back to Google Image to find the date of the sculpture in question - it was unveiled 1966


In 1966, she collaborated with fellow artist Jean Tinguely and Per Olof Ultvedt on a large scale sculpture installation, "hon-en katedral" ("she-a cathedral") . for Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden. The outer form of "hon" is a giant, reclining 'Nana', whose internal environment is entered from between her legs. The piece elicited immense public reaction in magazines and newspapers throughout the world. The interactive quality of the "hon" combined with a continued fascination with fantastic types of architecture intensifies her resolve to see her own architectural dreams realized.

Eric Idles wonderful Gaalaxy song comes from the 1983 movie The Meaning of Life of course, so I think Niki got there first. :-)

Twilight said...

...should say "Eric Idle's wonderful Galaxy Song"


Anonymous said...

So glad to see Niki getting some love, here.

She was indeed involved with the manufacture, design, and sale of both sets of perfumes. She created the snakes on the top of the parfum (the first, square bottle you show) and the images for the astrology bottles, which include several of her fantasy totems (a bird, a cat, and maybe one more that I'm forgetting) in addition to the 12 zodiac signs. She was approached by the company because of her status as a beautiful celebrity, but agreed to it only if she could control the design. She used the proceeds to fund the building of her Tarot garden.

And it's a fantastic perfume!

Twilight said...

Anonymous ~~~ Hi! Thank you indeed for the extra information.
It's good to know that there was genuine input to the perfume presentation and marketing from the artist - I always wonder about this when I see "celebrity" fragrances.

I've added Niki's to the list of perfumes I want to sample. :-)

NonnyMus said...

It's important to note that St. Phalle injured her lungs by inhaling too many fumes from the resins she used in her sculptures. No amount of astrological guidance protected her from solvents!

It's a good lesson on how it's much more important to read labels and understand basic physical laws than to rely on astrology!

Twilight said...

Nonny Mus ~~ (Nice name!)
Thanks for your thoughts - and you make a very good point !