Catherine Marie-Agnes Fal de Saint Phalle, later known as Niki de St. Phalle, a French sculptor, painter, & filmmaker, was born on October 29, 1930, to Jeanne Jacqueline and André-Marie Fal de Saint Phalle in Neuilly-sur-Seine, Hauts-de-Seine near Paris. In 1933, after Niki’s father lost his entire fortune during the Great Depression, they moved to New York, U.S., where she joined the Convent of Sacred Heart, and later moved to the Brearly School and eventually graduated from the Old Field School in Maryland.
Niki was a fashion model during her teens and at a tender age of 16 featured on cover for “Life” magazine (September 26, 1949) and the French “Vogue” magazine (1952), including “Harper’s Bazaar” and “Elle.” At the age of 18, she married her childhood friend, Harry Mathews, and went to Cambridge, Massachusetts. Here, she started painting and tried her hands at various styles and media. Phalle’s first kid, Laura, was born in 1951 and they moved to Paris. In 1953, the artist suffered a nervous breakdown and took to painting to overcome the trauma. Niki met the American painter Hugh Weiss, who became her mentor and companion. In 1956, Niki held her first art exhibition at St. Gall, Switzerland, illustrating her youthful style of oil paintings. She later moved to collages that regularly featured the objects of violence.
After her divorce with Harry in 1960, she worked and lived with Swiss metal sculptor, Jean Tinguely. In 1961, she tasted her first success with “Shooting Paintings,” wherein white sculptures were surrounded by the containers of paint and were then shot at, thereby displaying aggression and causing the paint to fall over the image. She exhibited her first solo exhibition in Galerie J in Paris with assemblages and a public shooting arena.
Niki later created many ‘reliefs’ and ‘assemblages’ of female figures of which “The Red Witch,” “The Bride,” and “The Pink Birth” are worth a mention. Niki’s next claim to fame was “The Nanas,” which were her expression of ‘everywoman’ and were displayed at the Alexander Iolas gallery in Paris (1965). In 1966, Niki teamed up with Tinguely and Per Olof Ultlvedt on a huge sculpture installation, “hon-en katedral (She – A Cathedral)” for Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden. Its shape is of a reclining “Nana” has her legs spread apart to let the visitors walk through. Her other famous sculptures include “Stravinsky Fountain (1982),” “La fountaine Château-Chinon,” “Queen Califia’s Magic Circle (sculpture garden),” and “Sun God (1983).”
In 1971, Phalle wrote, directed, acted, and produced the film titled, “Un Reve Plus Long que la Nuit.” Her other famous works are “Daddy (1973)” and “Who is the monster-you or Me (1995).” Gaudí´s Parc Güell in Barcelona & the garden in Bomarzo, influenced Phalle. She then decided to build a monumental sculpture park. Nikki bought land in Tuscany in 1979, and built the garden called “Giardino dei Tarocchi (Tarot Graden),” which contains the sculptures of the Tarot Cards symbols, and was opened in 1998.
In 2000, Niki received honorary citizenship of Hannover, Germany. She gave away 300 of her artworks to the Sprengel Museum. Nikki died of emphysema on May 22, 2002, due to the years of inhaling toxic polyester fumes, while working on her projects.