Monday, April 6, 2015

Niki de Saint Phalle

It was on a bright, beautiful, balmy Saturday morning down town in the North Carolina City of Charlotte that my daughter; Gail and I chanced upon something incredible and very interesting. We were just outside the newly opened Bechtler Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art.  A large (fifty three foot) flat- bed trailer truck was being unloading by workers and museum staff members. They were in the process of installing a mammoth sculpture. As my daughter and I witnessed the piece was being stacked to a magnificent height right there in the museum’s plaza. The structure was an extravagant, mosaic-like work with a reflective silver surface. What was becoming a fantastic creature of gigantic scale (granted slowly and methodically) was the Niki de Saint Phalle original; “Firebird.” Just how fortunate were my daughter and I to be privy to this amazing and fantastical event?

Miss de Saint Phalle came to the world’s notice first as a model for Vogue and Harpers in the late fifties. Her intelligence, beauty and sophistication radiated with undeniable elegance and style. Her artistic and creative skills would develop after a nervous break-down.
Painting was therapy and a way of coping with the troubles of her early life. Niki would take her pain, resilience, imagination along with every part of her being and use them in the creation of pieces that continue to resonate and thrill. The paintings evolved into mixed-medium expressions that would lead her into the “Shooting Paintings.” These paintings were literally created by Niki attaching polythene bags of paint to a designed surface and bursting them by firing a loaded shotgun. The making of the paintings would become performance pieces and through them Niki became the only female member of the elusive and respected “Nouveau Realists.”

The works that were most identified with Niki de Saint Phalle; her signatures, her alter egos, her “Nanas.” The sculptural statements of the “Nanas” were representations of robust colorful women; the “every-woman.”   As magnificent in their glory as they were playful in style and execution. Her crowning and most celebrated Nana was a work entitled: “Hon-en- Katedral.”  It was a large scale dwelling like work that visitors entered through what Gustav Courbet would have refer to as “The Origin of the World.” It was credited with a jump in Sweden’s birth rate the year it was exhibited. It seemed the work was enjoyed on a truly unpresented, inspirational level by the many.   

“Life … is never the way one imagis it. It surprises you, it amazes you, and it makes you laugh or cry when you don’t expect it” 

                                                       Niki de Saint Phalle

“The Tarot Garden” in Tuscany, the “Miles Davis” sculpture outside the Hotel Le Negresco in Nice and on a smaller scale (but no less monumental) her impressively unique Niki de Saint Phalle” perfume bottle were among the great and truly wonderful achievements of Niki’s vastly creative life. Her career and out-put continually expanded especially during her marriage to sculptor Jean Tinguely who she also collaborated with on multiple projects including film and video.  The personal price of Niki’s creativity was ultimately the highest. The polyester fibers in her favorite medium would cost her life. Her lungs were scare by breathing in the destructive, fine particles of the material.  Within her time and continuously through our own Niki de Saint Phalle towers and sustains. We are left with the brightness, the beauty, the spirit of adventure that was Niki de Saint Phalle.