Biography of Niki de Saint Phalle
Niki de Saint Phalle is famous for her Nanas, sculptures of buxom women, often monumental and caught in mid-movement, always polychrome. Niki borrowed the palette of Antoni Gaudi, as well as some aspects of his architectural works. From Jackson Pollock she took the vivacity of the gesture of painting. She offered a visionary vocabulary to the artistic avant-garde of her time. After leaving her husband in 1960, she moved in with the Swiss artist Jean Tinguely, who became her life partner and her greatest supporter. Through Tinguely she stepped into the thoroughly masculine group of the New Realists, demonstrating her integration by the use of materials commonly employed by the group’s members. This was the 1960s, and consumer society was celebrated by its characteristic dynamic: frenetic consumption. The materials Niki de St Phalle used, including junk and everyday objects, were placed at the service of her artistic sensibility and her revolt against the constraints imposed on the women of her time. Her artistic approach became an expressive outlet, reflecting the need to banish violence, driven by her childhood experiences. Her own life and her personal philosophy resulted in a body of work that was both committed and feminist.
Niki de St Phalle was born into an aristocratic French-American family in Neuilly-sur-Seine and attended a Catholic school in New York during her teenage years. She soon revolted against religious puritanism, protested against racial discrimination and refused the role conventionally assigned to women, based on their social class. After a severe depression in 1953, she began painting naive canvases influenced by Art Brut, as a self-taught artist. Then she never stopped creating, leaving behind her a diverse and abundant body of work, including performance paintings, feminist sculptures and psychoanalytical films.
In 2002, the artist died of lung disease caused by inhaling materials used for her Nanas.